Camp: With social media, campers now stay connected through an endless summer

For 12-year-old Sophie Golden, camp is “kind of like a different world,” where electronics are a no-go and her bunkmates feel more like sisters than friends. When she misses that feeling during the year, there’s an easy way to get it back, even if just for a fleeting moment — by checking her phone.

That camp feeling “is coming back a little bit, but the second I stop texting, it goes away,” said Golden, who attends Beber Camp, a Jewish summer camp in Mukwonago, Wis. She said she never worries at the end of the summers about losing touch because she and most of her camp friends stay in constant contact in group chats and on Snapchat, the photo messaging application.

Though camp has traditionally been a summer-only experience, the increased use of social media and technology by kids is changing that — and camps are catching on.

“For our campers, that camp experience of being connected to your camp friends never ends, it doesn’t just last eight weeks of the summer anymore,” said Jamie Lake, who serves as marketing manager for the Jewish Community Centers of Chicago’s two overnight camps and nine day camps.

That’s a positive as Lake sees it.

“I think it’s fantastic,” she said. “Anything that we can do to keep the positive feeling of Jewish overnight camp going longer than just the summer is a benefit, not only to our camp programs, but really to our campers and their families.”

And the JCC Chicago camps rely on social media, too, in keeping campers connected, such as using Facebook’s live streaming service in order to broadcast reunions to campers who cannot attend.

Social media also provide a way for campers to hang out — virtually, that is.

Camps Airy & Louise, Jewish brother-sister overnight camps in Thurmont and Cascade, Md., organize year-round events that campers can attend by logging onto Facebook and Instagram. During Chanukah, the camps ran a scavenger hunt in which campers were asked to photograph themselves wearing their camp shirts in various locations, and submit the pictures to the camps’ social media pages. Camps Airy & Louise also run online fantasy football leagues and NCAA men’s basketball March Madness brackets.

“If they’re going to be in a fantasy football league — some of them are probably already in three or four — why not be in a fantasy football league with camp?” said Jonathan Gerstl, the executive director at Camps Airy & Louise.

Golden’s Beber Camp organizes virtual events once a month during the year, such as “Where in the World is Beber?” when campers on winter break post photos of themselves around the world.

Brad Robinson, manager of customer experience and marketing at Beber Camp, said that anywhere from a few dozen to 200 kids — the latter representing nearly a third of all campers — participate in the events.

Although Golden communicates with her camp friends on her smartphone at least once every other day, she makes time for in-person meet-ups. Still, asked to imagine a world without cellphones, Golden said her relationships with camp friends would probably suffer.

“I think we wouldn’t be as close in the summer and have as much to connect to,” she said.

Robinson of Beber Camp echoed Golden’s experience.

“I think [social media] definitely allows for deeper relationship building, because they are just a few finger taps away from communicating with their friends,” he said. “It has allowed campers and staff to really further build those relationships, where in the past, it was only when they saw each other in person, or they were maybe writing some slower mail or emails back and forth.”

And parents are catching on too, using group chats to share letters they received from their children or to ask one another questions.

“Parents find out who’s in their child’s bunk and they exchange phone numbers and they start a group text to everybody,” Rabbi Joel Seltzer, executive director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, a Conservative Jewish camp in Lakewood, Pa., said.

For other parents, social media provides not only a way to connect with their children’s camp experiences but also to the camps they attended in their youth.

This summer, Sophie Golden’s mother, Davina, will be attending a reunion for Herzl Camp in Webster, Wis. — her first reunion since she worked there as a counselor 25 years ago. Davina Golden said she probably would not be attending were it not for having connected with old camp friends on social media.

“I lost touch with a lot of my friends,” she said, “but then, since Facebook, we all got in touch with each other.”

Summer camp love

Every summer for the last three years, staffer Naomi Elman, 23, and her fiance, Mitch Gelfand, 29, have stood on the stage at Camp Alonim in Simi Valley, exchanged rings and said their I-do’s. “Every session at camp there’s a carnival, and at every carnival there’s a fake marriage booth,” Elman explained. “So we’ve gotten married five times on that stage already — three the summer we met, and one every summer thereafter.” 

Naomi Elman and Mitch Gelfand getting practice-married at the marriage booth set up every summer at Camp Alonim. Photo by Tracie Karasik.

Next spring, the couple will go for a sixth try, but this one will be significantly more official: Leo Baeck Temple’s Rabbi Ken Chasen will officiate, and the rings will be made of something a little more durable than plastic. 

Getting married at Alonim has been Elman’s plan as long as she can remember. “Luckily, the groom agreed,” she said. Elman even asked Chasen to officiate when she was 16 — a few years before Gelfand rejoined the summer staff after a hiatus and caught her eye during their orientation.

Camp romances are a hallmark of the American summer. The setting is usually beautiful and idyllic, and with a limited pool of people in constant contact, connections forged are intense and intimate. Not all of these romances last — Gelfand and Elman are both veterans of prior relationships that had succumbed to real-world pressures after the summer’s end — but when they do, the happy couple has a ready-made wedding venue.

The marriage booth at Alonim also played a role in Sara and Hyim Brandes’ 2001 engagement as well — or that was the plan, anyway. Hyim’s idea to get down on one knee with a real ring at the booth was dashed when he discovered that Sara’s coveted time off was scheduled during the festival, and her plan was to be anywhere but in the middle of her campers. Luckily, there was an easy plan B: He offered to accompany her on a hike, and proposed on the ascent.

“I think camp couples get married all over the place,” Sara said. But she and Hyim chose Alonim because of its role in their history as a couple as well as for their families, both of whom have strong ties to the camp. “That we chose to get married there just speaks to the centrality of the place in both of our families’ lives,” Sara said. 

During the ceremony, their rabbi talked about how “this place was created for just this union, just this moment,” she said. “We had that feeling, that it was appropriate in that it was a culmination.”

The camp romance is short-lived much more often than it turns out to be long term: The bonds forged in unusual circumstances and close proximity have trouble adjusting to the strain, distance and business of life in the outside world. But the relationships that do last are often the most resilient ones — and on their wedding day, many couples are thrilled to return to the fantasyland where they first fell in love. 

David Ross and Lauren Schmidt, for instance, said they considered other venues “for about two seconds,” according to Schmidt, before deciding on Camp Ramah in Ojai, where they had met briefly as staffers in 1992. The couple ran into each other again and again over the years, eventually connecting at a different camp, Camp Young Judea near Austin, Texas, nearly a decade later.

“Camp Ramah has always been a foremost source of my identity, my spirituality and my commitment to Judaism. What better place to share this passion than [at Ramah,] with my future bride, our family and friends?” Ross asked.  

One of the biggest threats to the camp romance is simply age — not many people end up married to the object of their tween affections, after all. Not so for Eric and Alexandra Spitz. They met at Camp JCA Shalom in 1993 as 12- and 13-year-olds, respectively, and were each other’s camp crushes — and eventually shared their first kiss. It took another 13 years before they reconnected, but when they did, the chemistry of those early summers was still very much alive. They started planning to get married on their second date. 

When they did, there was no question that the couple would marry at JCA Shalom in Malibu. They also incorporated a few fun camp traditions into the wedding, Alexandra said: “On Shabbat at camp, we would write ‘Shabbat-O-Grams’ to our friends. I found one from Eric from when we were in camp that was signed, ‘I love you.’ We framed it and displayed it with our guest book.” 

There were other festive camp touches as well: “Our tables were numbered as cabins, and each person’s place card was attached to a mini s’mores kit that could be roasted with the lanterns placed on each table. Our favors were flashlights, so everyone could return safely to their cars at the end of the night in the pitch-blackness of camp,” Alexandra said. 

The best of all, though, is when weddings beget more of their kind, as was the case when Rena Kates met her husband Max at the Los Angeles wedding of her cousin, Samantha, to Mike Auerbach in 2009. Mike and Samantha had met at Ramah; Max and Rena, being two years apart, had never had the opportunity to connect at camp. Not so this time. 

“Max saw Rena hanging out with [her brother] Ethan, and casually asked Ethan who she was. Ethan said, ‘Oh, that’s my sister Rena’ and moved on to another topic. But Max didn’t forget!” the couple wrote in an email.

Three years later, Max’s day-long proposal involved printouts of emails he had sent Rena over the course of their relationship, a tour of their favorite places — which, of course, included Ramah — a slice of strawberry shortcake and the joyful blessings of family and friends. When it came to venues, the Kateses agree with Ross and Schmidt: “It was a no-brainer,” Rena said. “What other place has gorgeous mountain views, a special place in our hearts and can accommodate 400 people?”

Jewish summer camps: Director’s cut

At age 8, when Molly Hott stepped off the bus to complete her first summer of overnight camp, she told her parents she was going to “do this forever.”

She wasn’t kidding. Hott spent the next 14 years of her life as a camper, waitress, bunk counselor, group leader, events specialist and division head. As a college student, she pursued an independent study on camp programming and camp’s influence on children. Now, she is director of the 92nd Street Y’s Passport NYC camp in New York.

To fully understand the Jewish summer camp experience, it’s helpful to listen to directors like Hott—whose own camp experiences shaped their lives and careers. Why do camp directors do what they do?

“I do what I do because I have the chance to change lives, positively,” Hott told JointMedia News Service. “The impact that camp can have on a child or a teen is significant. You discover yourself at camp. I hope that summer after summer I can enable that same discovery for others.”

Many Jewish camps offer traditional activities such as field sports, aquatics, drama, arts and crafts, outdoor adventure, nature, sports, music, Israeli dance and culture, field trips, playground, swim lessons, photography, and cooking. But under this umbrella of fun are deeper things.

Take Passport NYC’s mission. It provides teens entering 9th through 12th grades opportunities to explore culture, community, and creativity through Jewish values-driven specialty camps: fashion, film, culinary arts, music industry and musical theater. Hott said teens are encouraged to explore their personal connection to Judaism while immersing themselves in the camp’s programs.

“They explore New York City through a Jewish lens by framing each and every experience in a way that leads to asking ‘why’ or ‘what’ or ‘how,’” she said. “When our group visits ‘Top of the Rock’ at Rockefeller Center, they receive two pieces of paper with Talmudic quotes. The piece of paper in their right pocket says, ‘The world is created for me,’ and the one in the left pocket says, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ The focus of this experience is to find balance in our lives.”

Hott added that each teen has the opportunity to earn up to 30 hours of community service credit by giving back throughout different areas in New York City.

Like Hott, Stacy Budkofsky, director at the Neil Klatskin Day Camp in Tenafly, NJ, has been a camper all her life.

“When I was younger I started as the youngest camper and left as the head of the girls’ camp at Tranquility Camp in upstate New York,” she told JointMedia News Service. “The motto in the camp world is 10 for 2, which means we live ten months out of the year for the two months of camp. There’s a lot of planning that goes into the eight weeks of camp.”

The Neil Klatskin Day Camp, Budkofsky said, is a place for a child to have fun while maturing through interactions with others. Staff members create a “communal group” where campers and staff participate to provide experiences that challenge the body, mind and imagination. Parents can expect campers to progress, not only through physical activities like swimming and soccer, but in the realms of social and emotional growth, according to Budkofsky.

“Children spend 10 months out of the year in a school setting and there are opportunities for socialization but they are different than what we provide at camp,” she said. “At camp it’s a much more social environment. They are not sitting at a desk all day. There’s a lot of team building and more freedom than in school.”

According to Mallory Saks, assistant director at Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village, Penn., staffers have been enriching the lives of campers for over 60 years. During that time, the camp evolved into one of the premier Jewish overnight camps in the U.S.

“We are very proud of all of our amazing traditions, beautiful facility, dedicated staff, core Jewish values, and incredible culture,“ Saks told JointMedia News Service. “We offer a wide variety of athletic, waterfront and arts programs for campers in second through eleventh grades.“

Mallory Saks, assistant director at Camp Poyntelle Lewis Village, Penn., said this Jewish overnight camp unique because it has two separate camps—Poyntelle and Lewis Village. Second through 7th grade campers live at Poyntelle and engage in age-appropriate activities and programs there, and 8th through 11th grade campers live at Lewis Village, where activities and programs are more challenging and appropriate for teenagers.

“We function as one whole camp during special times like Shabbat,” Saks told JointMedia News Service. “We do our best to continue our relationship with our campers long after they leave the gates of their summer home.” 

How has the camp industry changed over the years? Phil Liebson knows. His best memories and friends are from growing up at camp. Today, he is director at the Washington, D.C. Jewish Community Center’s summer camps.

“When you work with kids and they experience or complete things, their happiness is amazing and it hits you,” Liebson told JointMedia News Service. “Camp is an ever-changing environment. Years ago there was a push to keep camp rustic and outdoors and now they have transitioned into electronics and specialty camps. It’s great. Every kid should get to go to camp but not every camp is for every kid. When you find the one that fits your child you will know.”

Liebson’s camp integrates Jewish learning and Jewish living by incorporating Judaism through song and activities.

“We like to make it fun and exciting and not in a top down or lecturing way,” he said. “Learning through games or art projects is the best way for kids to learn and they have so much fun with it they don’t even know they are learning.”

Liebson said he is a Jewish camp director because he wants to “provide the same experiences for future campers” that he had as a camper himself. The same is true for Passport NYC’s Hott.

“I had been given the greatest experiences, friendships, community and love of myself through my summer camp opportunities—and I had to do that for others,” she said.

Happy wallet, happy camper

The economy is bad. Money is tight. And yet the news isn’t all negative for youngsters hoping to attend Jewish summer camp this year.

“The truth of the matter is, most of the summer camps have increased their financial aid,” said Jay Sanderson, president of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “We’ve increased financial aid. So a lot of the challenges of the economy so far have been mitigated. We invest close to $1 million in summer camps.”

Local attendance is down slightly but has been pretty consistent. Over time, though, he said, “We would love to see the number of young people going to camp go from 4,000 to 8,000. Our goal in the medium term is to find ways to double it.”

That goal may seem far-fetched, considering the stranglehold the economy has over so many people and the fact that private, non-Jewish camps have seen national attendance decline by 10 percent or more over the last three years, according to Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC).

But figures from the New York-based organization indicate that Jewish camp enrollment is holding steady or even slightly increasing. Fingerman expects this past year’s final numbers to be up more than 3 percent nationally.

Get the Grants

Foundation for Jewish Camp Grants and Scholarships – ” title=”” target=”_blank”>

“I think it’s been viewed as a communal imperative to make sure that kids have the ability to go to camp in the face of these economic times,” he said. “Federations have stepped up to the plate and increased scholarship assistance, and the camp communities themselves have their own scholarships.”

More than 70,000 kids went to Jewish, nonprofit overnight summer camps this summer, paying an average of between $700 and $1,000 per week, Fingerman said.

To help, FJC distributed more than 10,000 grants this past summer, totaling about $6.5 million, through two programs in particular. One Happy Camper offers $1,000 incentives to youths attending their first summer at a nonprofit, Jewish overnight camp. FJC partners with local Federations, camp movements and sometimes camps for these programs. Then there’s JWest, which is funded by the Jim Joseph Foundation and offers incentive grants for the first and second summers.

In Los Angeles, Federation gives out camper incentive grants to close to 1,000 youths. Some are based on financial need while those in conjunction with One Happy Camper focus on first-time campers.

At Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, fundraising efforts have gone into overdrive since the recession hit. As a result, more attendees are on financial aid — 42 percent last summer compared to 29 percent a few years ago — but more are enrolling, too.

“Our goal is to get every kid into camp, so we’ve raised the money,” said Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute, which is home to the camp.

Now the camp, which usually hosts 800 youths over the course of a summer, gives out $250,000 in scholarships based on financial need. Some campers receive assistance from other sources as well. The cost of attending Camp JCA Shalom generally is between $900 and $1,000 per week, Kaplan said.

There is a new challenge, though: Some potential campers simply aren’t asking for help.

Josh Levine, director of Camp Alonim, part of American Jewish University, said, “There are families out there who don’t send their kids to Jewish camp because they think they won’t qualify for financial aid, or they don’t know that financial aid is available. It is available, there is certainly no stigma in applying for financial aid, and it exists for a reason.”

Still, summer enrollment at the Simi Valley camp has increased to more than 900 overnight campers and 270 day campers. On average, overnight camp costs $850 to $900 per week and day camp costs $250 per week. Increased financial aid has certainly helped attendance.

“We have been raising more for scholarships,” Levine said. “I think the community is responding in knowing that there’s been an increased need out there, which is very heartening.”

Finding ways to get kids into Jewish camp despite the recession is incredibly important to the Jewish future, Sanderson said.

“If you go to camp for two or three years minimally, your Jewish identity is solidified,” he said. “Almost everybody I know, including myself, among the most meaningful experiences we had in terms of Jewish engagement was camp. That’s where lifelong friends are met. It’s where love of Judaism happens.”

Families Look in Own Back Yards for Summer Fun

Each summer, Erica Groten saves money on summer camp for her son, Ethan, by enrolling him in an exclusive program with only one opening: Camp Mom.

Groten takes Ethan, 6, to places like the Natural History Museum and the Los Angeles Zoo, and organizes beach days with other families and their children. She plans to reprise her role as camp director this summer, creating educational trips for her son.

“We decided that financially, it didn’t make sense to send him away for the summer,” said Groten, of West Hills. “I think he would have a great time at camp, but it just doesn’t work for us. I can create a summer experience for him that would be on par with the camps.”

More parents this year are opting for low-budget alternatives to supplement or substitute for traditional summer camp, turning to backyard camps, mommy camps and round-robin groups where participating families take turns programming for their kids. The move lets families cut the often-hefty cost of tuition from their budgets and allows parents to give their children what some feel is the added benefit of a personalized schedule with mom.

Many Los Angeles mothers turn to Kids Off the Couch, a Web site and free, weekly e-mail newsletter, for tips on inexpensive summer adventures and kid-oriented “staycations.” Co-founders Sarah Bowman and Diane Shakin test-drive all of the day trips outlined on the site with their own children, often using favorite movies or current events as a springboard for educational outings that broaden kids’ horizons.

“Every week, it’s a movie or a book or something to get your kid’s attention, and then we tie it to something to do in the city,” said Bowman. “We’re connecting it to a theme, or to something that’s going on in the world.”

These so-called “popcorn adventures” might involve watching “Little Shop of Horrors” in preparation for a visit to the Conservatory Lab at The Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, or watching the documentary “Paper Clips” before a visit to the Museum of Tolerance to learn about Yom HaShoah. The Web site also offers suggestions for creating a “home curriculum” based on the themes explored in each field trip and conversation-prompters to make sure kids soak up the educational value.

“You could do a vacation in your own city, and not spend a lot of money, and have a lot of fun,” Bowman said. “You can pick and choose locations and create a pretty neat itinerary for exploring parts of your city you don’t really know.”

Kids can also have just as much fun doing activities at home, said Esther Simon, a professional home organizer and mother of seven children who hosted mommy camps at her Santa Monica house for more than a decade.

Erica Groten and her son, Ethan, picked vegetables and strawberries at Underwood Family Farms in Moorpark last year as part of Groten’s “Camp Mom.”

Families should first settle on a budget and then make that figure stretch throughout the week with reasonably priced outings and projects, she said. One day could be dedicated to paid activities such as going out to museums, movies or miniature golf. Another day could be reserved for in-home arts and crafts, such as making birdhouses, pencil boxes or beaded jewelry.

Holding a weekly cooking class for kids is entertaining and teaches life skills, said Simon, who would often let her children write up a menu of simple items — macaroni and cheese, pizza and cookies, for example — and then invite friends over to share the meal. “It’s fun to make your kitchen into a little restaurant, and it teaches independence,” she said.

Other mommy camp activities could include holding scavenger hunts at the mall or on the beach, playing games with sidewalk chalk, planting a garden or holding relay races at a local park. Families can even incorporate tikkun olam (repairing the world) into their camp curriculum by having kids volunteer at a hospital or home for the elderly.

“You have to start out the activities with them, and as much enthusiasm as you show, that’s how much they will get into it,” she said.

If both parents in the family work, Simon added, they can hire a local teacher or teenager to host a backyard camp for them. Five of Simon’s six daughters have hosted backyard camps — both for their siblings and for other neighborhood children.

One backyard camp with an educational bent will be offering themed, weeklong camp sessions this July for preschool-aged kids. Karyn Saffro, who founded the in-home preschool Berwick Buddies at her Brentwood house in January, is letting parents sign up for a full month of summer programming or take it week by week for a cheaper alternative.

Weekly themes include Aloha Paradise, in which kids will learn about Hawaii, the ocean, and make volcanoes as a science project, and Pirate Adventure, which will feature scavenger hunts and water play.

Saffro — a 14-year teacher who spent half her career at Stephen S. Wise Temple Elementary School — incorporates the Reggio Emilia instructional method, in which learning is directed by the students. Whatever kids want to explore — be it octopi or fire trucks — she facilitates their educational desires with books, projects and experiential activities.

“The fact that it comes from the kids keeps it interesting and ever changing,” she said. “Our Hawaii week could be all about hula dancing, if that’s what they’re interested in, or fish or surfing,” she said. “There are things I’ll offer and show them, and we’ll see where they take it.”

The whole month costs $900, and a single week is $250. The price includes a full day of programming and healthy snacks.

Parents still seeking a traditional camp experience have a range of options available to help defray the cost. Most local overnight camps offer need-based scholarships, or “camperships,” and discounts for early registration and sibling enrollments. In addition, incentive grants of up to $1,500 are available to families of first-time campers through a partnership between The Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and the national Foundation for Jewish Camp (FJC). For families who still feel they can’t make overnight camp work in the current economy, day camp is increasingly seen as a viable, less-pricey option.

Most of Erica Groten’s friends enroll their children in summer camps, but she maintains that not everyone should follow the flock.

“Every parent needs to find what’s right for them and their child,” she said.

To learn more about Kids Off the Couch, visit To learn more about Esther Simon’s mommy camp tips, visit ” title=”” target=”_blank”>

Solar panels, radio station keep Jewish camps current

It was a given that Benjy Rabin, 9, would spend part of his summers at Camp Ramah as soon as he was old enough. His father is a Ramah alum, and so are his older brother and sister.

“That was the plan we made when we decided that Jewish day school was not an affordable or appropriate option for our kids,” said Benjy’s mother, Ellen. “All the research says that going to summer camp is just as significant as day school in promoting Jewish identity.”

But Jewish overnight camps can’t rely on families like the Rabins to fill their cabins. A study done in 2006 for the Foundation for Jewish Camping shows that Jewish kids in Southern California attend secular camps at about double the rate at which they attend Jewish camps.

“Parents don’t feel they’re getting bang for the buck by sending their children to Jewish camps,” Gerrald B. Silverman, president of the Foundation for Jewish Camping, said of the study. “Part of that has to with facilities not being competitive.”

The study, by Steven M. Cohen of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, calls the “limitations in facilities and in quality of recreational activities” one of three areas needing attention, and Los Angeles area Jewish camps seem to be taking note.

Climbing wall at Alonim
Climbing wall at Alonim

Camp Alonim in Simi Valley is constructing a new, 15,000-square-foot dining hall scheduled for completion in fall 2008, as well as rebuilding an adjacent dance pavilion that will be ready for this summer’s camp sessions. The new facilities will replace structures erected in the 1960s.

“In order for Jewish camps to do what they do — which is help preserve the Jewish future — we need to help convince parents, families and kids themselves to choose their camp,” said Gary Brennglass, executive director of American Jewish University’s Brandeis-Bardin campus, home to Alonim. “Part of Alonim’s efforts to continue to make it an attractive alternative relate to the physical plant. And the Campus Center and Dining Hall really are key elements in terms of any camp’s physical plant.”

Alonim also added a batting cage and started a mountain biking program last year. This year, the camp is introducing its own radio station and has added Krav Maga (an Israeli martial art form) and water polo to the menu of activities. The camp also redesigned and upgraded its Web site, adding blogs and an extensive photo gallery to attract visitors.

At Camp Ramah in Ojai, campers will be greeted this summer with a new pool featuring two corkscrew-shaped water slides. This complements the existing 25-meter pool, which has been renovated with a new deck, bathrooms and two diving boards. Executive Director Rabbi Daniel Greyber said the new pool will allow Ramah to offer more extensive aquatics programs, such as water polo, advanced swim training and possibly scuba diving.

Several years ago, Ramah purchased 22 additional acres of adjacent land that includes an orange grove. A residence located on that property is being converted into a retreat center, which during summers will be used to host guest coaches, artists, scholars and other specialists. Gifts to Ramah have also enabled the camp to expand the hiking trails on its property and build remote overnight campsites.

“The larger picture is that we’ve done a master plan and are in the middle of a capital campaign and looking forward to a whole host of other projects to reinvent and reenergize our program facilities,” said Greyber.

Camp JCA Shalom’s physical changes reflect its environmental bent and are part of its “True to Nature” campaign. Three of the facility’s buildings are now powered by rooftop solar panels, and about half of the camps’ bunks are made from recycled plastic.

“We know that greening is one of the trends people are looking for nationally,” said Camp Director Bill Kaplan. “It fits into our values system in terms of what we’ve been doing with the kids at camp and in connecting to our Jewish tradition.”

The campus also features the Marla Bennett Israel Discovery Center and Garden, a year-round interactive learning center that teaches organic gardening and farming through the lens of the relationship between Judaism and the environment. And last summer, Camp JCA Shalom introduced its Pioneer Living Center, an area dedicated to teaching historical skills such as how to build a log cabin, make candles and throw a tomahawk.

This summer will initiate the third season for Camp Gan Israel Running Springs, which just received accreditation from the American Camp Association. To address the need for greater capacity (enrollment increased 60 percent from the first year to the second), the camp is in the final stages of constructing a 10,000-square-foot building that will serve as dining and meeting hall. The structure includes dairy and meat kitchens and two large bathrooms.

Camp director Gershon Sandler said that although the camp is run by Chabad and is therefore a comfortable option for Orthodox children, the majority of campers come from non-observant homes. Sandler, who was at one time a fellow for the Federation for Jewish Camping, is well aware of the recent study on Jewish campership.

“We are giving parents what they want — helping their child to move ahead in life, not just providing a warm and fuzzy experience.” At the same time, he said, “there’s something about our spirit that the parents and kids love.”

Most camp directors stress that the emphasis on a camp’s physical features or its ability to offer bells and whistles are of only part of the picture.

“We’re a different summer camp to begin with,” said Rachael Sevilla, executive director of Camp Gilboa. “We’re more tailored to Israel education, which is itself a specialty. We’re not about to become a sports or drama camp any time soon.”

Although Sevilla says that Gilboa’s facilities could use some upgrading (the camp rents a YMCA facility in the San Bernardino National Forest), enrollment has nevertheless grown 30 percent in the last two years.

Loud and clear reasons for a cell phone-free Summer

One of the hardest rules to enforce at camp is not no gum-chewing, no graffiti or even no late-night sneaking out. It’s camper cell phone use.

Everyone is so used to being in constant contact that even our kids can’t seem to hang up the phone for the few short weeks of summer camp.

Camp administrators confiscate all the phones we find and, as the session goes on, more appear. The latest trick is bringing two cell phones to camp: one to sheepishly turn in on the first day, and the other to hide under your bed.

Cell phones are an inherent part of our culture — why fight that at camp?

In addition to being a place for fun, making friends and becoming more connected to Judaism, camp also has the potential to build self-esteem and encourage independence in a safe environment, but that potential is lost when a cell phone is introduced.

Let’s look at an example, a conversation I had last summer:

Mom: The girls in Jessica’s [not her real name] bunk are picking on her, and the counselors aren’t doing anything. If something doesn’t change, I’m coming to pick her up.

Me: I’ll look into that right away! Today is the second day of camp. Did you already get a letter?

Mom: No … she called me on her cell phone.

Me: We don’t allow cell phones.

Mom: I know. I told her to call me if she had any problems. I told her I would come pick her up.

This is a loving mother who wants her daughter to enjoy camp. Unfortunately, this is also a parent who has made it impossible for her child to succeed at camp.

Becoming a Self Advocate

Jessica had fallen into the habit of how she would have handled this situation had it happened at school — she told Mom. An opportunity for growth was missed, because Jessica was not forced out of her comfort zone. Learning to advocate for yourself is one way to practice independence.

Richard Mullendore, a former vice president of student affairs at the Universities of Mississippi and Georgia calls the cell phone “the world’s longest umbilical chord.”

We know that a parent’s job is to teach children life skills, so why, according to Mullendore, are parents of college students calling Residence Life directors to mediate arguments between roommates? At camp, kids learn to get along with bunkmates, rather than waiting to learn this lesson with college roommates.


When Mom told Jessica to hide the cell phone in her bag, Mom wordlessly taught her daughter that it is permissible to break the rules. Why should Jessica abide by the rules if her mother does not? Author and psychologist Wendy Mogel teaches that even how you navigate a carpool line can teach your children something: “When you cheat in line, you signal that you don’t care about rules or other people.”

Citizenship — being a positively contributing member of a community — is another value that is powerfully taught at camp. Having a cell phone that your parent encouraged you to hide destroys that lesson.

Building Confidence

Mom also taught Jessica to have anxiety about going to camp. Children pick up on their parents’ anxiety, even if they do not know what it is about. The cell phone is a symptom, indicating that either the parent or the camper is not viewing camp as a trusted authority.

Once a camp is chosen, both the camper and the parent will reap more benefits from the camp experience if they can commit to the decision wholeheartedly. When a camper calls a parent from a hidden cell phone, the opportunity to address the problem and salvage the child’s remaining time at camp is likely lost.

If there is something about the camp that is causing doubt, parents should not hesitate to contact the administration directly.

Life Skills

If Mom made sure that Jessica left the phone at home, she could have shown Jessica that she had confidence in her daughter’s ability to survive at camp without her input. If Mom had not offered to pick her up from camp at the first sign of difficulty, she could have shown her daughter that she believed Jessica could work through the problem or endure it.

When do we allow our children to truly rehearse decision-making skills, become problem solvers, practice advocating for themselves and make safe mistakes from which they can learn valuable lessons? If children are trained to call Mom or Dad every time they hit a snag in life, they miss the opportunity to develop crucial skills. Camp is the perfect place to develop these skills within a safe, supervised, enclosed environment.

Every camp has multiple vehicles for keeping in touch, such as letters, one-way e-mail, calls to the parent liaison or the director and online photo galleries. Camp works when a partnership is formed among the camp, the parents and the camper. It is only when all three do their part that the camper can be successful. Camps strive to create a safe and wholesome environment, but they can only do this alongside their parent partners. So please, this summer, leave the cell phones at home.

Jordanna Flores is the director of Camp Alonim at the Brandeis Bardin Institute, Peers give Orthodox teens lesson in drug use and abuse

The Bittersweet Meaning of Mud


I had been waiting seven years, and my machon summer at Camp Ramah in Ojai was finally here. It would be different from every other summer, because we would finally be the oldest group, and camp domination would be ours. I knew it would be bittersweet, and I looked forward to making every moment of this incredible summer count.

Natalie KatzThere is one program in particular that embodies all of the emotionalism and meaning of machon summer: Tza’adah. Tza’adah is a five-day, four-night overnight trip that takes campers far from the boundaries of camp and into the nature of Northern California, where we bond with friends, while experiencing the outdoors. I was a little skeptical about not showering for five days, but before I knew it, the day finally came — we were ready to embark on a wild adventure.
We drove for what felt like a lifetime to Big Sur in Northern California. The next morning, we had our first day — and only day — in Big Sur. The morning started with a bowl of Rice Krispies and some scrambled eggs. Following breakfast, we were given the choice between a hard, medium or easy hike.

Assuming the hard hike was going to be well, hard, I set off with the rest of the adventurous campers on the hard hike. We trekked all the way up a beautiful cliff overlooking the ocean, singing songs to pass then time and admiring the scenery.

We walked along the beach and came to an astounding discovery. Earlier that day, a beached whale had died and was now lying on the sand. Staring with amazement at the gargantuan creature, we developed one of the verses of our machon song, “This Tza’adah of Mine,” sung to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine.”

Later that evening, after arriving at Lake Casitas, our campsite for the next three nights, we sat around the bonfire and sang cliched camp songs, aided by packets of the best songs hand selected by our wonderful counselors. We could all sing along and learn the words. I will keep the songbook forever as a memento of this journey.

The next day, we took a bus to a beautiful beach. As my two friends and I were walking along the shore, we found a rock shaped like a heart. We took it with us, promising to start a new tradition of passing the rock, along with a letter, among us so we can keep in touch after camp.

The last day, we were given a choice between kayaking, rock-climbing and mountain-biking. I chose kayaking.

The group leader gave us the task of fitting as many people in one kayak as possible without it tipping over. This may not seem to be difficult, but it was unbelievably hilarious and so hard! Try to imagine people laughing hysterically while squeezing their way onto a little kayak. Meanwhile, it’s sinking, and we’re desperately trying not to tip it over.

I was sitting near the front, and after the ninth or 10th person climbed on, the kayak flipped over. Everyone fell in the water — and to top off a perfect day, the water was the perfect temperature.

Then we had one last task: To stand up straight on the kayak and paddle it like a gondola in Venice. I succeeded after falling in a couple of times!
Tza’adah had finally come to a close, but we were not going to finish without a huge hurrah. As is tradition at Camp Ramah, the machon campers run into the chadar ochel, the dining hall, at the end of lunch, giving mud hugs to friends and family. On our last day, we trudged eight miles back to camp from Lake Casitas, singing, laughing and stopping for POWERade along the way, a necessity in the sweltering heat.

We finally got to camp, jumped in the mud pit and got ready to run into the chadar. I will especially remember being the first to do a belly flop in the mud.

Once everyone was finished getting muddy, we formed platoons and began to march to the chadar. The platoons lined up at different entrances. I could feel the adrenaline pulsing through my veins.

The counselors yelled, “Charge!” and we sprinted for the doors. It was complete pandemonium inside. I ran around yelling, cheering and giving mud hugs to all my friends, making sure to squeeze extra tight to ensure they were truly covered in mud.

Looking back
is so hard, because I know I will never again have the chance to run through the dinning hall covered in mud. Tza’adah defined my camp experience, and I know that even though I will never be a camper again, the memories I created this summer will last forever.

Natalie Katz, a 10th-grader from Manhattan Beach, has attended Camp Ramah for seven years.

Speak Up!

Tribe, a page by and for teens, appears the first issue of every month in The Jewish Journal. Ninth- to 12th-graders are invited to submit first-person columns, feature articles or news stories of up to 800 words. Deadline for the September issue is Aug. 15; Deadline for the Ocotber issue is Sept. 15. Send submissions to

Israelis Bring Situation Close to Home for Campers

When news of Israel filters through to Camp Hess Kramer, the kids do what is only natural — they turn to the Israelis who are spending the summer with them to make sense of what they’re hearing, and to bring it home in a way that is intensely personal.

“Because my campers know actual Israelis, they can make that connection in a way that they can’t by just reading a news story or going through an intellectual exercise,” said Doug Lynn, director of Wilshire Boulevard Camps, which includes Hess Kramer and Gindling Hilltop, both in Malibu.

Like most camps, Hess Kramer, has a staff of Israelis who work as counselors and educators. This summer, 1,400 Israelis, most of them between the ages of 19 and 22, are staffing 200 Jewish day and sleep-away camps, according the Jewish Agency, which coordinates the stays.

Some Counselors Return to Israel

While no Israeli staffers have been called to active duty while already here for the summer, several who were close friends or family members of bombing victims went back to Israel.

In a normal summer, the Israeli staff’s mission is to bring Israel closer to the kids, and that has become more powerful this summer, as rockets rain down on Haifa in Israel’s north and pound Sderot in the south.

The Jewish Agency has been offering the shlichim, or Israel emissaries, programming ideas to help the kids understand the situation, and camps have modified and developed their own programs.

At Hess Kramer, kids took the opportunity to learn about the wider conflict in Israel and engage in informal conversations with Israeli staffers. At Camp Ramah in Ojai and at Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, campers recited psalms and wrote letters to Israeli children in areas that were being attacked, an effort coordinated by The Jewish Federation. Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss will deliver the letters in Israel this week.

Younger campers can use the opportunity to talk about emergency preparedness, and in that way relate to Israeli children in bomb shelters, said Ariella Feldman, who coordinates Israeli volunteers for the Jewish Agency. Older children can dissect the intricacies of conflict resolution, on a personal level and on a magnified national level.

Anxiety Affects Campers, Too

But beyond these formal opportunities, it is simply feeling the anxiety and commitment of the young Israelis in camp that is affecting the campers.
At Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, the assistant director is from Haifa, and his mother flew in for the summer to be camp mom. The program director, a fighter pilot in the Israeli army, was supposed to arrive this week but was called up for duty. The camp has about 20 Israelis, including staff and some children.
The camps are all focused on providing comfort and support to the Israelis who are summering with them. Many are young and fresh off — or in the middle of — their own military duty, and have friends and siblings being called up to fight. Most know they will likely be called up when they get back to Israel.

Camps, normally stingy on allowing phone calls and access to electronic media, have allowed Israelis constant access to news and phone calls to Israel. Some camps have purchased phone cards for their Israeli staff.

Still, the Israeli counselors feel torn about where they are.

“Their families are under house arrest, they are stocking up on food, they are under attack — and they are here at camp,” said Feldman of the Jewish Agency.
Aside from the moral support they are getting from American campers, what is helping the Israelis is that this summer, the mission to educate and to personally touch American kids is even more vital.

“They are vacillating between feeling guilty about being here, and really understanding on a deep level why they are here,” Lynn said. “They are making these connections with Reform Jewish kids in a way that cannot be done unless they are here, so they are recognizing that at times likes these, their job here is even more important.”

Class Notes

Get Packing
It was weeks before camp started, but on Sunday, June 11, Gear Up for Camp Day brought 1,700 people — including 500 campers and their families — to The Federation’s Camp Max Straus, run by Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters. Campers filled laundry bags with camp necessities — sunscreen, T-shirts, hats, socks, towels — most donated by local businesses. Federation staff and volunteers, as well as staff from Jewish Big Brothers/Big Sisters and Camp Max Straus, helped distribute the goods.

This was the first time the event was held at the nonsectarian overnight camp in Glendale, giving parents a chance to see where their kids would spend the summer. The day also featured carnival rides, live entertainment and food.

The Federation is helping 1,100 underprivileged kids go to camp this summer, including those who will attend Max Straus — which offers one- and two-week stays to at-risk youth from the L.A. area — and some Jewish children, mostly immigrants from Iran and Russia, who will attend Jewish camps on Federation scholarships.

For more information, call (323) 761-8320.

Arts in L.A. Gets a Push
Arts Education in L.A.-area public schools is getting a boost from the Jewish community, as the Jewish Community Foundation and The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation recently announced support for Los Angeles County’s Arts for All initiative. Adopted by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors in 2002, Arts for All seeks to restore arts education slashed with the passage of Proposition 13 in 1978.

The Jewish Community Foundation, in collaboration with the Los Angeles County Arts Commission, launched the Arts in Schools Giving Circle to try to raise $100,000 from individual donors by the end of 2006.

The Giving Circle hopes to provide matching grants to fund more than 150 arts residency programs serving approximately 4,000 K-12th grade students in 14 Los Angeles County public schools.

Seeded by a grant from the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Giving Circle is the first opportunity for individual donors to participate in the Arts for All Pooled Fund, a consortium of foundations and corporations.

The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation announced a $100,000 gift to the Pooled Fund in May. Of this, $50,000 will support the Hacienda La Puente Unified School District’s plan over the next three years to hire an arts coordinator and to develop arts curriculum and arts education training for district teachers. The Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation supports initiatives involving healthcare, access to college, Jewish programs in Los Angeles, and established a chair in Israel studies at UCLA.

For further information about the JCF Giving Circle, call program officer Amelia Xann at (323) 761-8714 or For information on the Rosalinde and Arthur Gilbert Foundation, call (310) 449-4500. For information on Arts for All, visit

Birthright Reaches 100,000
This month, the 100,000th 18- to 26-year-old will participate in a free, educational trip to Israel, thanks to Taglit-Birthright, a 6-year-old program supported by United Jewish Communities, the Israeli government and 14 philanthropists.

Internal research has shown that the program is meeting its goals of solidifying participant’s Jewish identity and connection to Israel, and has also generated more than $182 million in revenue for the Israeli economy.

But the program might be a victim of its own success: This summer, 15,000 applicants were turned away, when a record 25,000 youth applied for just 12,000 spots.

For information, call (888) 994-7723 or visit

Teens on the Beltway
Rabbi Morley Feinstein of University Synagogue in Brentwood accompanied the synagogue’s confirmation class to Washington D.C., to participate in the L’Taken Seminar of the Religious Action Center of the Union for Reform Judaism last month.

The study and action program was attended by 250 students, who culminated the conference by meeting with congressional staffers to advocate on behalf of issues such as Darfur, immigration and the death penalty.

Also attending were teens from Temple Beth Torah of Ventura, Temple Beth Sholom of Santa Ana, Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Israel of Hollywood.


Fleeing Nazis Breaks His Father’s Spirit

My father, rarely impetuous, married my much younger mother when he was 46, and he was 49 when I was born.

When I was a toddler and we went occasionally together to the Berlin zoo, people came up and congratulated my father on his cute grandson. So there was this age gap, to begin with. We went on vacations together to a Baltic Sea resort or Denmark, but we never kicked a soccer ball around (who knew about baseball?).

My father, Dr. Gustav Tugendreich, was a well-known pediatrician and a pioneer in infant health care who had served as a frontline medical officer for four years in the Kaiser’s army during World War I.

He was profoundly steeped in German culture, could probably recite most of Goethe’s and Schiller’s works by heart and was an enthusiastic classical music buff.

As in most upper-class German Jewish families, the upbringing of my older sister and I was left largely in the hands of a devoted governess.

Typical of the time and class, my parents were completely assimilated, much more so than American Jews of that era. My earliest recollection of any religious rite was standing around the Christmas tree with the servants and singing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (“Silent Night, Holy Night”).

Yet, my father’s assimilation had its limits. When he was offered the directorship of the Berlin municipal hospital, on condition that he convert to Christianity, he refused.

Everything, of course, changed in 1933, when Hitler came to power — but only gradually. First, my father could no longer treat his “Aryan” patients. Then our beloved governess had to leave under a new law that no Aryan woman under 45 could work in a Jewish household.

For me, living in cosmopolitan Berlin, the change was hardly noticeable. I had gone to a private Montessori school, so didn’t have to switch. Now I was sent to a suburban Jewish boarding school, where I had the time of my life, the best teachers I have ever known and lived in Albert Einstein’s summer home, which he had donated to the boarding school.

In the beginning of the Nazi era, my father, thanks to his international reputation, was offered various positions abroad, including, oddly enough, at the main hospital in Tehran, but he couldn’t conceive of leaving Germany. Like many old-time German Jews, he looked on Hitler as a temporary aberration, which the good sense of the German people would soon reverse.

We still spent our family vacations abroad, the only prolonged stretches of time I recall with my father.

It’s odd what sticks in your mind. In 1935 or 1936, we vacationed on the idyllic Danish island of Bornholm, staying at a boarding house. One morning, a German man and his family arrived, and when the Danish host tried to introduce him to my father at the breakfast table, the German bowed briefly and stiffly but did not shake hands. My father responded in kind.

What puzzled me at the time was why the German wouldn’t shake hands, and later, how he knew immediately that we were Jews.

Finally, in 1937, two years after the Nuremberg laws consigned all Jews to third-class status, my father reluctantly agreed that it was time to leave. As in most families faced with life-changing decisions, it was my mother who was the more flexible, resolute and pragmatic.

But by now, all potential countries of refuge had pretty well closed their borders, and there was a line stretching ahead for years to get an American visa.

We were saved, in retrospect, by one of those odd happenstances that determine our lives.

Back in 1919, British and American Quakers sent missions to defeated Germany to help feed its hungry children, and my father was appointed liaison to the Quakers by the German government. Now my father recalled the brief relationship and tracked down the Quakers.

By a quirk of the U.S. immigration laws, academicians who had taught at a foreign university before emigration, and were guaranteed a one-year position at an American college, were granted a “nonquota” visa and skipped the immigration line.

Though my father had never been a professor, the British and American Quakers went to work and arranged a lectureship in public health, first at the University of London, and then at Bryn Mawr College, near Philadelphia.

So it was decided that my father would go ahead, spend 1937-38 in London and 1938-39 at Bryn Mawr, at which time the rest of the family would join him.

My mother was then head of the German WIZO (Women’s International Zionist Organization) and reluctant to leave her post, and, anyhow, what was the hurry? Everybody in Germany knew that Hitler was so shrewd that he would get what he wanted without a war, and of course, anything like a Holocaust was beyond imagination.

My father was always a bit of a worrywart, and I clearly remember how we chuckled over his increasingly urgent letters, especially after the 1938 Munich pact, begging us to forget about bringing the furniture and money and come to America right away.

So we took our time and left flag-bedecked Berlin in style on April 20, 1939 — Hitler’s 50th birthday — flying from Tempelhof Airport to London, and then traveling on a German passenger ship from Southampton to New York, arriving in the middle of May.

We were met at the harbor by my father and some old Berlin friends (I believe we skipped Ellis Island), but I have no emotional recollection of the reunion.

I do remember that a few weeks later, the reunited family left for a couple of weeks for New Hampshire’s scenic White Mountains. There the Quakers had set up a camp with young American counselors to introduce the new refugees, mainly Jewish, to the native customs of their new country.

One lesson was that after each meal, the assorted ex-professors, doctors and lawyers and their wives and children had to bus and clean their own dishes. You have to know the ingrained European class distinctions to realize what an absolute shock this request represented.

My father, who had a great sense of humor, laughed the whole thing off and complied readily. But as I was carrying my dishes, an elderly refugee came up to me to express his shame and horror that the son of Herr Doctor would be asked to perform so menial a task.

Of course, the “yekkes” — German Jews — who arrived in Palestine in the 1930s had to undergo similar adjustments but perhaps with less sympathy from the old-time inhabitants.

Three months after that experience, and to my immense astonishment, Hitler invaded Poland, and World War II was under way.

My father tried hard but unsuccessfully to overcome his heavy Teutonic accent, but, in truth, the forced emigration had broken his heart and spirit. After his Bryn Mawr lectureship expired, he was too old, too ill and too weary to start from the beginning and try to study for an American medical license.

I was then a pimply teenager, completely self-centered, trying to cope with a new culture and language. I was of little help and solace to my father and happily enlisted in the U.S. Army as my first chance to get away.

My father died in 1948 at the age of 71. I recently received a very polite letter from the German Association of Pediatricians, mentioning my father’s name and expressing remorse for the treatment of Jewish physicians by their Aryan colleagues during the Nazi era.

It was a little too late.


The Circuit

Doctor in the House

On Sunday, April 9, American Jewish Congress, StandWithUs and Beth Jacob Congregation welcomed Dr. Raanan Gissin, strategic analyst, international spokesman and senior adviser to Israel’s prime minister, to Los Angeles. More than 150 people learned about Israel’s next course of action regarding West Bank disengagement and consolidation; the move to create defined, defensible borders; the Hamas election; and subsequent prospects for peace. Gissin stressed the urgency of making aliyah and increasing Jewish population in Israel to keep it the majority. Gissin is a fifth generation Israeli, born on Kibbutz Hasollelim in 1949.

Wine and Wishes

The historic Beverly Hills Post Office, future home of the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, was the setting for a multivintage wine tasting hosted by Beaulieu Vineyard, the Peninsula Beverly Hills and Eunice and Hal David.

There to see a preview of the new architecture, guests sipped wine, schmoozed and nibbled goodies as they discussed the endless possibilities for the soon-to-be-a-reality long awaited project.

A dramatic multimedia preview of plans for the Performing Arts Center slated to break ground in 2007 was the evening’s highlight. Guests included Beverly Hills Mayor Stephen Webb and wife, Bonnie; Bram Goldsmith, and Vicki and Murray Pepper.

Kudos for Dr. Katz

Music, laughter and everyone dressed up and determined to have a great evening, sums up the recent Junior Philharmonic 69th anniversary Concert Spectacular.

Rainy weather couldn’t deter these die-hard fans that showed up en masse to celebrate the evening at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion that paid homage to Dr. Ernst Katz’s extraordinary accomplishments over seven decades.

In addition to the melodic strains of Mozart, John Williams and Tchaikovsky, the annual Celebrity Battle of Batons brought levity and some show business legends to the stage. A cocktail party in the founder’s circle began the festivities and Wink Martindale served as host for the evening while, Army Archerd led the Battle of the Batons.

Participants included Peter Graves, who also narrated “The Impossible Dream” with the orchestra; June Lockhart; Mark Kriski, and Linda Gray. But local KTLA morning newsman Carlos Amezcua took home the honors and received the golden baton from last year’s winner, Florence Henderson.

Amezcua won over the audience with his spirited dancing (in the style of Zero Mostel) as he led the talented musicians in the strains of “To Life” from “Fiddler on the Roof,” while a stirring violin solo by Smbat Atsilatsyan had everyone enraptured.

Henderson presented a rendition of the score from “The Sound of Music,” which actually had the audience singing along. (Hard to resist that “Do Re Mi.”)

The evening really was specia,l and Katz really deserves all the kudos for his tireless work keeping this amazing group of talented musicians playing.

Time for Tikvah

Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program will be have a new leader this summer.

The one-of-a-kind Tikvah program for special needs children will now have Elana Naftalin-Kelman, a Columbia University and Bank Street College trained social worker and educator at its helm. This follows the announcement of the resignation of previous director Tara Reisbaum, who led the program for eight years.

Camp Ramah’s Tikvah program is especially designed for Jewish adolescents, ages 11 to 18, with learning, emotional and developmental disabilities. The Ezra program, Tikvah’s counterpart for young adults, offers participants a summer vocational training course at cCamp.

Throughout its 34-year history, Tikvah has sought to create an environment of inclusiveness for special needs children, adults and their families both at Camp and in the greater Jewish community through education, exposure, socialization and fun.

For more information about Camp Ramah or the Tikvah program, call (310) 476-8571.

Yiddish Spoken Here

What could be better? An evening of Yiddish poetry, a nosh, interesting guests. It was all a wonderful evening of “tom” when Pen USA, a club for writers, recently presented one of its entertaining salons organized by Helen Kaufman.

It was like channeling Dorothy Parker, George S. Kaufman and the members of the Algonquin Roundtable as Miriam Koral delighted attendees with Yiddish poetry readings from such noteworthy poets as Fradel Shtok, Rosa Gutman and Avrum Reisen, among others.

Koral, an expert in all things Yiddish also read one of her own selections. And although we know it is always lost in translation, the essence, the tone and the wonderful reading had everyone mesmerized. Literary notables like Dr. John Menkes, author of “After the Tempest,” sat eyes closed as Koral read or played some of the pieces set to music.

Everyone’s presence seemed to say, Yiddishkayt is very much alive and well and appreciated in Los Angeles, and can we please have more?



We Love Israel

Come Party With The Jewish Journal at the Israel Independence Day Festival on May 7. Answer the Kein v’Lo question on a separate sheet of paper, attach the completed entry form and bring it to our booth at Woodley Park, which will open at 10 a.m. Every family that turns in a completed answer will get a prize, but the first 10 families will get four tickets each for the upcoming “Sesame Street Live” shows at either the Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza or the Terrace Theater in Long Beach. (Tickets to each location are limited — so first come, first serve. Limit one prize per family.) For more information on the festival, click on yeLAdim at

Kein v’ Lo:

Summer Camp

This section of the page is a way for you as kids to sound off about an issue. This month’s Kein v’ Lo (yes and no) is about camps. Should Jewish kids go to Jewish camps or other kinds of camps?

The Kein Side:

• Studies have shown that going to a Jewish camp — either a day camp or for overnight camp — increases kids’ connection to Judaism and the Jewish community, regardless of their background.

• Jewish camps have the backing of synagogues, schools and — sometimes — entire religious movements, so you and your parents can trust that you’ll be safe and learn interesting things. (You also won’t spend all day hiking in the woods, eating bugs and sleeping on rocks.)

• At these camps, you learn fun and important Jewish things, like songs, rituals and prayers that you might not at school or anywhere else.

• It’s fun to find a way to be Jewish WITHOUT your parents around.

The Lo Side:

• It is important for kids to become well-rounded by making friends of different backgrounds, races and religions, which can happen at a non-Jewish camp.

• Not everyone is comfortable being religious at a summer camp.

• It’s fun to do other things when you go to a camp. You can learn about religion at home and in the synagogue.

• If you love sports, performing arts or science, there are camps that spend the entire summer on one subject, so you can learn a lot while having fun.

We aren’t saying which is right and which is wrong. We want to know what you think. Attach this completed form with your answer on a separate sheet of paper.

Name: _____________________________________________________________

Age: ________________________________________________________________

School: _____________________________________________________________

Grade: _______________________________________________________________

Phone Number: _____________________________________________________

E-mail: ___________________________________________________________

We’ll publish your opinions on a future yeLAdim. And whether you’re heading to day camp or overnight camp — yeLAdim wishes you a rockin’ summer!

Kids Page

Josh Fields, 8, of Thousand Oaks, won the “My Amazing Summer” essay contest.

He wins a gift certificate to the store of his choice.

I went to Yellowstone National Park two days after school ended. It took two days to drive all the way to Yellowstone. We drove through beautiful scenery in five states that I had never been to before, including Idaho and Montana.

In Yellowstone, I saw bison, moose, elk, a bear, trumpeter swans and baby bald eagles. I saw geysers, mud pots and hot springs. I became a junior ranger, which made me very proud. I saw the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Lower Falls, Mystic Falls, the Prismatic Springs and Excelsior Geyser. I also went to Virginia City, which is an old gold mining town. I had a tour of the town and I went gold mining.

After I got home I went to an acting camp called Kids Acting Out West, and we did “Cinderella.” I was a bodyguard. I made lots of friends at the camp. This is the process of what I went through: First, I had auditions. After that I got assigned my part. I practiced and played with my part. We had two successful shows. All in all, I had a great summer!


Hoop Star Scores On and Off Court

Aulcie Perry is a tall man — and a man who stands tall in Israel. At 6-foot-11, the former professional basketball center would stand out in a crowd anywhere in the world. In Israel, Perry draws crowds of fans, especially youngsters.

“I’ve been here a long time,” said Perry, an African American born in Newark, N.J. “Israel has been good to me.”

Perry has been good to Israel as well.

After a successful career with the country’s top basketball team, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Perry, 54, opened summer basketball clinics for children 7 to 14 years old in Tel Aviv. And he’s about to open another one — a camp set up to attract teens from all over the world, especially observant Jews.

This focus on teaching basketball in an Israeli and Jewish context began eight years ago, when Perry and Greg Cornelius, an American hoopster from East Carolina University who played professionally in Israel, developed plans for a summer camp. The result was the Basketball for Stars summer camp at the Wingate Sports Institute near Netanya.

“It is a very, very high-quality affair,” Perry said. “I bring the best coaches, and also coaches who are Israeli and were star players here in Israel. I also bring in the top players from Maccabi to come in and talk to the kids.”

Maccabi, Perry’s old team, just won the European championship for the second year in a row. And Perry was a key figure in Maccabi’s original rise to basketball prominence. Perry appreciates his old team’s consistent dominance, but he’s personally focused on the next generation.

Perry’s new venture, open to children from all over the world, will feature Jewish sports heroes, such as Tal Brody and Tamir Goodman, Perry in a three-week sports camp called Sal Stars (Hoop Stars in English).

Perry came to Israel in 1976. He was a player rejected by the NBA who was trying to improve his skills on a summer league team. In Israel, he impressed representatives from Maccabi Tel Aviv.

“I came to Europe to work on my game, and then go back and try again with the NBA,” Perry said. “Maccabi came to me. I signed up for two months. We won the European Cup. Things never looked the same again. Maccabi has been the top team since.”

Brody, from Trenton, N.J., was a college All-American in the 1960s, and was picked in the NBA draft. However, he chose to go to Israel.

“Tal Brody is ‘Mr. Basketball’ in Israel,” said Perry, who played with him on the Maccabi Tel Aviv team that won the European championship in 1977, Perry’s first year in Israeli basketball.

The win put Maccabi “on the map to stay,” Brody once said.

During his career, Perry led Maccabi to victory in the 1981 European Cup, the 1980 Intercontinental Cup, nine league championships and eight National Cups.

“It’s going to be something special,” Perry said of Sal Stars, explaining that it will teach not only basketball but tennis and soccer, too.

The program is open to Jewish youngsters from around the world, although it’s aimed at Torah-observant Jewish teens. It will be based in Givat Washington, a religious sports university near Ashdod. Givat Washington has world-renowned sports facilities and some of Israel’s best athletic trainers.

According to Perry, “the three-week camp will give them the highest quality of coaching and training in sports, as well as give the Israeli experience.”

“They’ll travel. They’ll see the country, the historic sites. It’s going to be something special,” he said.

The clinic will run from July 7 to July 28.

In March, Perry, who also is a sports agent, looked for potential players for international leagues. He scouted young talent from black colleges during the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Basketball Tournament in North Carolina.

While Perry was with Maccabi, he would bring traffic to a halt as fans jockeyed for a view of a man who then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin said helped bring “honor to the people of Israel.”

Perry played high school ball at West Side High in Newark and college ball for Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, Fla. In 1975, he had a short stint with the Virginia Squires of the American Basketball Association.

But it was in Israel that Perry found his game and his home, he said. Today, Perry, who is unmarried and has a son, observes Jewish holidays, but said in an e-mail that he “doesn’t like to classify” himself religiously.

“In Israel, they are more concerned about what you can do than what color your skin is,” he said. “You’ll have the opportunity if you’re capable and have something to offer.”

For more information about Aulcie Perry’s summer camps, visit

Cure Found for the Summertime Blues


When Sarah Winchell needs motivation or encouragement, during her daily prayers she visualizes Chimney Rock, a landmark in the Rocky Mountains surrounded by frozen lakes, a plunging cliff and a blanket of snow. The image has been imprinted in the 15-year-old’s mind since she saw the breathtaking view last summer on a Jewish backpacking expedition program through Teva Adventure.

“One of my counselors said, ‘Take a look around and whenever you need an inspiration when you’re davening, think of this [view],'” recalled the Sebastopol 10th-grader.

At a time when keeping young Jews connected to their roots has become more important than ever, a variety of summer programs help teens solidify their Jewish identities.

Teva Adventure offers a variety of wilderness programs enabling Jewish travelers to develop outdoor skills while keeping Shabbat and kashrut. While backpacking, hiking, mountain climbing and fishing, participants learn Jewish perspectives on the outdoor world. Programs for 14- to 19-year-olds include Rocky Mountain Teen Adventure and Derech Hateva in Israel.

Teva is still accepting applications for this summer. For information, call (310) 765-4035, or visit

What better way to embrace one’s Judaism than visiting Israel? Organizations like North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), United Synagogue Youth (USY) and B’nai B’rith Youth Organization (BBYO) offer a variety of tours to Israel, Europe and Central America where high school students get to know the culture and meet other teens from around the country. For arts enthusiasts, BBYO and Avoda Arts are offering a unique program fusing Jewish learning with creating art at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass.

For more information on USY programs for ninth- to 12th-graders, call (212) 533-7800, or visit

For more information on NFTY programs for 10th- to 12th-graders and incoming college freshman, call (212) 452-6517, or visit Deadline: May 1.

For more information on BBYO programs for 10th- to 12th-graders in outdoor adventures, community service and college programs in Israel and the United States, call (818) 464-3366, or visit

For the politically minded young adult, Aish HaTorah International is offering Hasbara Fellowships, a leadership-development seminar in Jerusalem, which educates college students about the history and politics of Israel and the Middle East.

For more information, call (646) 365-0030, or visit Deadline: one month before program begins (see schedule online).

High school students looking for a taste of college life can explore National Conference of Synagogue Youth’s (NCSY) special-interest programs, including the Ivy League Leadership Scholars program, which takes students to Columbia University’s School of Law in New York City and parts of Washington, D.C., where they’ll meet high-powered Jewish professionals and learn how to pursue demanding careers while staying committed to Judaism.

In the Summer Medical School Experience students take college-level classes from world-renowned doctors at Northwestern University campus. The “Hollywood Film School” experience at UCLA fosters a Jewish setting while teaching aspiring screenwriters, directors and editors the ropes for their future careers.

Last summer, Tova Wiener, 17, spent a life-changing six weeks in the Michelet program for girls (the boys’ program is called Kollel), a learning experience at a Jerusalem seminary.

“I thought that the best experience for me would be to connect to Israel through learning,” said Wiener, a senior at Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles.

For more information on programs for ninth- to 12th-graders in Israel, Spain, Italy, U.S. college campuses and others, call (212) 613-8233 or (888) 868-7496, or visit

Teens in search of a cross-continental camp experience can meet Jews from all over the world at the Ronald S. Lauder Foundation AJJDC International Jewish Summer Camp in Szarvas, Hungary. Drawing campers from 20 countries, the camp is currently in search of 60 10th- and 11th-grade “American Ambassadors” to meet their international peers and share their Jewish communities and foster friendships.

Ronald S. Lauder Foundation AJJDC International Jewish Summer Camp

For more information, call (212) 362-3361, or visit

To share one’s Judaism and learn about other religions, Interfaith Inventions, a Ventura-based nonprofit organization, boasts Interfaith Summer Camps in Ojai and Rose Mountain, N.M., where teens and preteens from various faiths come together to share their diverse backgrounds. The camp’s inaugural summer last year brought together Muslim, Jewish and Christian teens and preteens to share their cultures in a mutually respectful way with all the fun of camp.

For more information, call (310) 317-9262, or visit


The Great Camp Learning Curve


Spring is in the air: apricot blossoms burgeoning on their branches, daffodil 10-packs floating in plastic pots at Trader Joe’s and summer camp brochures stuffed into our mailboxes.

I am a big fan of camp. Every summer from 1973 on, I packed my trunk and headed to Malibu. Camp Hess Kramer shaped my teen years and reinforced my Jewish identity. It was my second home from age 12 to 22, and to this day, whenever I catch a whiff of pancakes frying in hot oil on a griddle, I close my eyes and return to camp. My life revolved around those precious summer months. If somebody offered me a job at camp today, I’d roll up my sleeping bag and hop on the bus.

When it came time for my own children to go to camp, one would have thought that with all my experience, knowledge, and leadership training I would have been better prepared. But, from the mother’s standpoint, summer camp is whole different adventure.

I’m not one of those plan-ahead moms. I like to follow in the footsteps of mothers before me. If some mom did the research and decided it was good enough for her kid, then it was good enough for mine. Car seats, strollers, sneakers, bicycles, preschools, camps, whatever — who am I to question? Besides, why do all that work when someone else just did it? It’s a time-management thing.

A number of years ago, when my first son was halfway through kindergarten, I tried getting my feet wet in the elementary school scene by attending a PTA meeting. After the meeting a few moms invited me for coffee at some new place called “Starbucks,” which had just opened on the corner.

“So,” Janis (an obvious expert at motherhood) said as we squeezed four chairs around a tabletop the size of a cookie tin. “Have you sent in your applications yet?”

“My what?” I asked, burning my tongue on a ridiculously expensive latte.

“Applications,” she said. “For camp.”

“What camp?” I asked.

“Summer camp,” Elaine, another veteran, chimed in. “It’s March. You know they’re due pretty soon. If you don’t send them in by next month, it’ll be too late.”

“That’s right,” Janis said, “camps fill up by April. Do you know where your son is going to go?”

I had no idea where my son would be going, but I knew that I’d be going to the place where bad mothers who don’t meet deadlines go.

“I … I don’t know anything about it,” I confessed, panic rising in my throat.

“Calm down,” Carrie said, “it’s not too late.”

I immediately pegged Carrie as an ally.

“You still have a few more weeks,” she said. “And if you miss the deadline, there’s always summer school. That’s what my kids are doing, and then three afternoons a week they’ll go to nanny camp.”

We all looked at Carrie.

“Nanny camp?” Janis asked, skeptically. “What’s that?”

“It’s when my mother-in-law takes my children. She loves it, the kids love it, I earn major in-law points, and the best part is it’s free.”

I had met my guru.

“Well,” Elaine looked askance, “mothers ought to put a little more thought into a child’s camping experience. Last year, Tommy went to science camp and loved it. This year I’m signing him up for two sessions — each week they do a different project. There’s rocket week, nature week, history of the Earth week….”

“Do they offer college credit?” Carrie asked.

“What?” Elaine asked.


“And then,” Elaine prattled, “in between science camp, he’ll do a three-week session of regular day camp.”

Janis chewed her lip thoughtfully: “That probably only takes you to, what, mid-July? You should consider six weeks of day camp, then throw in a week of art camp, or maybe that music and fencing combo-camp thing at the enrichment center.”

“Hmmm,” Elaine sipped her cappuccino. “That might be a good idea.”

Carrie broke off a piece of currant scone: “So Elaine, what’s all this camp gonna cost?”

“Oh, puh-lenty,” Janis interrupted, scribbling figures on a napkin. “You’re up to at least $1,000 so far. And that’s without the music/fencing combo.”

“And don’t you have something like three kids?” Carrie asked.

My head-held calculator spun wildly. The deadlines, dollars and decisions — my overpriced latte swirled in my stomach.

Elaine wiped some crumbs onto the floor. “Well, I have time to think about it, but you, little missy,” she stood and pointed at me, “had better get started. The clock is ticking. And take it from me, a kid with nothing to do makes for a very long summer.”

Thus began my introduction to the chaotic camp frenzy that would become a fixture in my life every spring. I wish I could say that never again was I caught unprepared, but each year I live through my own version of March madness. As fate would have it, after experiencing all types of fun-filled, exciting camps, my boys have ended up right back where I began — at the same Jewish camp in Malibu, where life-long friendships bloom and religious identities are formed and enriched.

Now that I firmly belong in the “experienced mother” category, I’ve had younger mothers ask me about sending their kids to camp. Well, as I said, I am a big fan of camp. And take it from me, a kid with nothing to do makes for a very long summer.


Reach Out and Touch Faith


When Elizabeth Cobrin goes to Israel this winter break with Birthright Israel, she and her friends have devised a plan to find each other when participants in all the different Birthright trips get together.

They are going to sing their camp songs really, really loudly, until they hear each other and can sing together.

Remembering the songs won’t be hard, since Cobrin will spend a week before she goes to Israel in Winter Camp at JCA Shalom in Malibu, her summer home for five years.

Cobrin, a freshman at CSUN, says that her experience at camp, from camper to counselor, has been central to her Jewish identity, and that it stays with her year-round.

“Now that I am a counselor and I’m teaching kids about Judaism and can influence them, it is an even more central part of camp for me,” Cobrin said.

For many kids and counselors who attend Jewish summer camps, these winter months bring a Diasporic separation from a source of spiritual and social life. Camp gives a 21st century context to Judaism, cements Jewish identity and perhaps, most importantly, introduces children to lifelong friends, colleagues and even future spouses.

E-mail, instant messaging and weekend cell phone minutes now play the role that stationery and stamps used to in sustaining relationships. Many camps hold weekend reunions or winter camps, and, of course, some campers return together as counselors to continue spending summers on the same hallowed grounds.

The trick seems to be to weave the threads of camp life into the cloth of daily existence. Jill Zuckerman Powell, director of admissions at New Community Jewish High School in West Hills, has no trouble keeping in touch with her friends from Camp Alonim at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in Simi Valley more than 30 years ago.

“I’m related to them!” she laughs, explaining that her husband, brother-in-law, pediatrician and veterinarian are all camp pals. “I see them all the time, so it’s easy to stay in touch.”

Jewish camps are known to be one of the best tools of a Jewish education, with their emphasis on multidimensional teaching of values, Hebrew language, culture and religious customs. Young Judaea, a Zionistic youth organization with six camps across the United States, reports in a 1998 survey that 59 percent of alumni light Shabbat candles as compared to 20 percent of the whole Jewish community polled in a 1990 National Jewish Population Study.

The Limud Report, a research project conducted by an independent firm concerned with Jewish life at summer camps, found that 85 percent of Jewish camps conduct Friday night services and that campers cite it as the No. 1 source of spiritual and personal satisfaction in the camp experience. Many recall the magical feeling of standing with the entire camp dressed in white for Shabbat, and walking hand in hand to Friday night services.

For Cobrin, Shabbat services are the most powerful factor in building unity among campers.

“My favorite Jewish activity is Havdalah,” she said. “I think that after such a busy week, it is nice to get the whole camp together in one place…. Knowing that [it] could be the first time all week all the age groups are together and participating in the same program.”

A former camper notes that whether or not you enjoy services, you are there with everyone else with the single purpose of honoring Shabbat.

But it might be the informal weaving of Judaism into day-to-day activities that provides camp’s most powerful impact. Powell points to Alonim’s dancing, music and games that all have elements of Jewish culture. In this way, the construction of kids’ Jewish identity is not even conscious. It is not until they have time to think about all they have learned in the week or the summer that they notice the change in themselves.

“All my identity as a Jew is through camp. Hebrew school and Sunday school were negative experiences for me, as I think they are for many kids,” Powell said.

She met her husband at camp, has sent her two daughters to camp and recommends the experience for every child.

“I wanted to give my children that love,” Powell said, emphasizing camp’s pivotal role in fostering attachment to a Jewish heritage.

She has a tradition that started when taking her 8-year-old daughter to camp:

“You turn off the radio when you get there. It’s almost a spiritual experience, driving down the road to camp.”

And it is that experience that lives on throughout the year. Even in the darkness of winter, campers reach to reconnect with spiritual roots that lie dormant, knowing that the warmth of summer, though a few months away, never really recedes.


Sweet Days of Summer at Day Camps

Local synagogues, Jewish centers and other cultural organizations are holding day camps throughout the summer months that expose children to Jewish culture, popular culture and even pre-Columbian culture.

The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Orange County operates two camps in two different locations that cater to different interests and age groups.

For 2- to 4-year-olds, JCC’s Camp Yeladim offers a playful and creative environment in five sessions, with activities including water play days, cooking, sing-alongs, messy art play, puppet shows, family activities, science, oceanography and Judaic exploration.

Each week, Camp Yeladim has a different theme to help the young children experience the world through travel. The themes are: “Traveling America,” “Traveling and Camping,” “Traveling to Hawaii,” “Traveling to the Circus” and “Traveling and Tasting the World.”

Camp Yeladim is held at the JCC at 250 Baker St., Costa Mesa. Hours are 7:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays; half days from 9 a.m. to 12:45 p.m. The cost for a week is $350 a for members and $455 for nonmembers, or $240 for members and $315 for nonmembers for three days.

For more information contact Roberta Deutschman at (714) 755-0340, ext. 113.

Camp Haverim for kindgerarten children through ninth grade is offering four weekly summer sessions on the grounds of Tarbut V’Torah Community Day School in Irvine. Younger campers can participate in field trips, overnights, beach and swim days, sports, arts and crafts, music, drama, nature, dance, Jewish theme weeks and Shabbat programs.

The older campers have the same programs, but there will be extra activities, including amusement park outings and camping trips. Campers also may choose a one-week specialty sports or theater camp, where they receive coaching by sports experts or rehearse and perform “The Music Man.”

Camp Haverim’s hours are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., with costs ranging from $240 to $400 for members and $340 to $560 for nonmembers. Kosher lunches, Dippin’ Dots, T-shirts and camp pictures can be purchased for additional fees, and scholarships are available to qualified campers.

For more information call (714) 755-0340 ext. 126 or go to

Silver Gan Israel offers a combination of Jewish life and culture, along with summer activities such as sports, arts and crafts and nature hikes. The camp is offered in two locations: the Hebrew Academy at 14401 Willow Lane, Huntington Beach, and Morasha Jewish Day School, 30482 Avenida de Los Banderas, Rancho Santa Margarita.

Both camps are open to children entering kindergarten through seventh grade and have a counselor-in-training program for students 13 to 18.

The camp’s focus is Jewish heritage and instilling appreciation for Jewish culture. Weekend Shabbatons, Israeli dancing, challah baking, stories and contests will be overseen by Jewish counselors brought to the camp from all over the world.

“All of our counselors come from working with children or in children’s programs within their local Jewish community in different parts of the world,” said co-director, Bassie Marcus. “Jewish spirit and identity is very important to every counselor with Silver Gan Israel.”

About 200 campers are expected to enroll at both locations. The camp schedules three two-week sessions, and campers can attend either all five days or just three days a week. Camp hours are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.

For campers in fourth grade or higher, an overnight and getaway trip to Big Bear in the San Bernardino mountains is offered in early August.

Cost per session is $350 for five days and $260 for three days. There are extra fees for T-shirts, baseball caps and tote bags.

For more information contact Joelle at the Morasha camp office at (949) 770-1270 or Rabbi Yossi Mentz at the Hebrew Academy campus office at (714) 898-0051.

Morasha is also offering a summer camp program for preschool-age children who can attend two-, three- or five-days a week for full- or half-day sessions. Activities include art, music, drama and storytelling, daily water play in an inflatable pool, weekly themes and Shabbat every Friday.

“Each week is a different theme like bubbles, circus, sand and red, white and blue that includes art, music and stories that go with that week’s theme,” said program director Lin Goldman.

Camp hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, with an hour of quiet time after lunch. The program lasts eight weeks and costs $155 a week, $100 for three days and $75 for two days.

For more information contact Goldman at (949) 459-6330.

Congregation B’nai Israel holds Camp B’nai Ruach at the synagogue, 2111 Bryan Ave., Tustin. The camp’s programs are designed to teach Jewish heritage to grade schoolers.

The camp is divided into five age groups: kindergarten, first- and second-graders, third- and fourth-graders and fifth- and sixth-graders. Seventh- through ninth-graders serve as counselors-in-training.

The camp meets weekdays from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. in six one-week sessions. Campers go to the beach on Tuesdays, cool off at the pool on Wednesdays and take a field trip Thursdays related to the week’s theme. Field trips range from the Los Angeles Zoo to Carlsbad’s Legoland.

Cost for Camp B’nai Ruach is $195 a week for synagogue members to $225 for nonmembers. There is a $10 discount for extra children per week and additional costs for registration fees and camp T-shirts.

For more information on Camp B’nai Ruach contact Barbara Sherman at (714) 730-9693 or go to

Temple Beth Sholom operates Camp Sholom at 2625 N. Tustin Ave., Santa Ana. Camp Sholom offers daily activities integrated with Jewish values. Campers’ grades are kindergarten to sixth, while seventh- to ninth-graders take part as counselors-in-training.

“All of our activities are based on Jewish living 24/7,” said camp director Rabbi Heidi Cohen. “We dedicate all day Friday to Shabbat at the temple, and at the end of the day, we imagine lighting candles and drinking from our Kiddush cups in observance of Shabbat.”

Every day is opened with Jewish songs and morning blessings, and Hebrew is used continually in the camp. Campers refer to staff members in Hebrew as madrichim meaning leaders, and each group is given a Hebrew name like rishonim, which means the “first ones”; chalutzim, “pioneers”; and habonim “builders.”

Sholom campers can attend camp five or three days a week. Tuesdays and Thursdays are off-campus days, with trips to the beach or local theme parks; Wednesday afternoons are for swimming. Camp hours are weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with extended morning hours from 7:30 a.m. and evening hours to 6 p.m.

Camp Sholom costs $194 for members and $221 for nonmembers for the first session; $184 for members and $210 for nonmembers for the second session; and $168 for members and $194 for nonmembers for the third session. Prices are less if parents choose only three days a week per session. One T-shirt will be provided with the cost of camp, and there is a $30 nonrefundable registration fee for each camper.

For more Camp Sholom information contact Rabbi Cohen at (714) 628-4600 or go to

The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana offers a day camp through its Kidseum that introduces children to foreign cultures. Kidseum offers seven weekly sessions for children 6 to 8 years old and 9 to 12. Camp hours are 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, with extended hours available for an extra charge.

Each session has a distinct theme or explores a different culture. Themes include a “Historical Journey,” “Pacific Rim Odyssey,” “Art of the Pioneers,” “Art of the American Indian,” “The Americans,” “Pre-Columbian Art Adventure” and “African Safari.” All programs include visits to the Bowers’ galleries, theme-oriented art projects and interactive music and dance periods.

Kidseum has space for only 30 campers each session. Cost per session is $165 for nonmembers and $150 for members.

For more information contact Genevieve Barrios Southgate
at (714) 480-1522 or go to

Rabbis’ Tact Puts Sex Victims First

David Schwartz, who pleaded no contest last year to charges associated with child molestation at an Orthodox summer camp, has been released from a yearlong stay at a residential treatment facility and is now living in the Pico-Robertson area. Rabbinic and mental health professionals are taking steps to help the victims and their families, as well as the community at large, feel safe and protected from a man who allegedly sexually brutalized and psychologically tormented 4-year-old boys at a Culver City camp for the arts in summer 2002.

Despite his plea, outside of courtroom proceedings Schwartz has maintained his innocence. His wife Nitzah, a preschool teacher at Yeshivat Yavneh in Hancock Park (where Schwartz himself used to teach), has stood by him throughout, saying to rabbis and others that there is no way the father of her children could have committed the lewd acts attributed to him.

While some rabbis who know the family have quietly supported Schwartz and his family, many prominent rabbis and community leaders have been strident and outspoken in their support for the victims — an indication that the Orthodox community has overcome its historic hush-hush approach to abuse. Taking its lead from Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Family Resource Center, a group of rabbis has attended hearings, counseled the victims and inserted itself into the case.

Several high-profile cases in recent years — both locally and nationally — have helped foster a newfound willingness among rabbis to work with mental health professionals not only to handle crises, but to take proactive measures as well.

"The families see us there and the community knows we’re there, and I think that it’s an important factor for them to know we are not just going to sweep this under the rug," said Rabbi Berish Goldenberg, chair of the Rabbinical Council of California’s (RCC) Family Commission and a member of Aleinu’s Halachic Advisory Board — groups that often collaborate and have overlapping membership.

In a plea bargain reached in January 2003, Schwartz pleaded no contest to one count of committing lewd acts with a minor under 14. Eight other charges were dismissed, and Schwartz received a six-year suspended prison sentence and one year in a treatment facility, and is now on probation for an additional four years. He must undergo another year of therapy, cannot work as a teacher or with children and must register as a sex offender for life.

Upon Schwartz’s release in late January this year, Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader at the Airport Courthouse ordered Schwartz to stay out of an area roughly encompassing the Pico-Robertson and south Westwood neighborhoods. Schwartz, his wife and their three young children reportedly live just east of Robertson Boulevard, one of the boundaries, but have been ordered by the court to move east of La Cienega Boulevard. In addition, Schwartz must stay 100 yards away from a list of synagogues and schools where some of his victims may attend.

In a letter filed with the court March 2, RCC’s Goldenberg and Rabbi Avrohom Union recommended the judge also prohibit Schwartz from attending any synagogue where children are present and only allow him to attend synagogues populated mostly by senior citizens. They also asked that Schwartz be ordered stay away from all schools and be prohibited from using the mikvah (ritual bath). Mader rejected those recommendations.

"The court has commented that the victims need to step back and let the man lead his life," said Vicki Podberesky, Schwartz’s attorney. "The court put on restrictions it feels are appropriate and the DA thought those restrictions were appropriate."

Podberesky said that while she can’t comment on the Schwartz case, in general the criminal justice system is imperfect and innocent people do get convicted. "Sex offense can carry a life sentence and people make decisions many times about how to handle their case based on the fact that they want to ensure that they will see their family again," she said.

The rabbis say their job is not to retry the case, but to accept Schwartz’s plea and treat him as a sex offender. The RCC, together with the Halachic Advisory Board, oversees a beit din (rabbinic court) to deal with such issues. Schwartz has been invited to sit down with the beit din.

Goldenberg, who is also principal of Yeshiva Rav Isacsohn Toras Emes, said that the beit din’s aim is not to penalize Schwartz, but to protect the community and to work with Schwartz to help rehabilitate him — perhaps help him find a job and a synagogue.

"In one sense we want to be harsh and tough and make him understand that he is going to be monitored," Goldenberg said. "On the other hand we are here to help and we are willing to come to an agreement. If we can tell the victims’ families that he is going to follow what he is supposed to do and be where he is supposed to be, we can help make things better for him and his family."

The most likely scenario, many acknowledge, is that Schwartz will leave town, which he can do with proper permission from the court. Jewish sex offenders have been known to resettle in Israel or other Jewish communities.

Such was the case with Rabbi Mordechai Yomtov, who divorced his wife and left Los Angeles soon after he was released from prison about a year ago. In February 2002, Yomtov pleaded guilty to two counts of committing continuous sexual abuse on a minor and one count of lewd act on a minor at Chabad’s Cheder Menachem. He was in prison for a year and his whereabouts are currently unknown.

While both Schwartz and his victims would likely be happier with him out of Los Angeles, the beit din acknowledges its responsibility to keep tabs on him. "There is no question that theoretically the ideal situation would be for him to leave town, assuming he could be monitored," said Rabbi Shalom Tendler, a member of the Halachic Advisory Board. "It would be entirely wrong and irresponsible for us to just push our problem on somebody else."

The Halachic Advisory Board has taken a strong stand on issues of abuse. Aside from working directly with Aleinu Director Debbie Fox to respond to crisis situations, the board helped draft and implement guidelines for schools and camps to prevent, recognize and deal with situations of abuse.

Those guidelines have set a national standard in the Orthodox community, and have since been modified and adopted by schools throughout the country.

"That is the beauty of our community — the rabbonim and JFS and Aleinu work together on crises and we provide advocacy and support from a spiritual as well as a mental health model," Fox said.

The victims’ families will need that support, now that Schwartz is back in the neighborhood. One mother of a victim said her son had been doing better but is now having nightmares and acting out again.

She plans to take him to the Culver City Police Department, where detectives have been helpful all along, so they can explain to him how Schwartz is free but the child will still be safe.

"He’s always been so worried about other kids getting hurt, so the police made him a special junior detective," the mother said. "Now they’ll give him one more badge and promote him."

For more information on Jewish Family Service’s Aleinu Family Resource Center, call (323) 761-8816.

Time to Transition From Day to Night

This summer, Jacqueline Berlin, 7, will leave her mom, dad
and younger sister to enter the world of overnight camp for the first time.

“As soon as she found out that she would be old enough to go
[to Camp Ramah in Ojai] this summer, she wanted to go,” said Jacqueline’s
mother, Robin Berlin of Beverly Hills, who attended the Jewish residential camp
for 10 summers as a child and teenager.

But is Jacqueline, who will be 8 by summertime, really ready
to be away from home for a whole week?

“I don’t know,” Berlin said with a sigh, “but I think it’s
good that it’s coming from her.”

According to the American Camping Association, more than 10
million children and adults attend an estimated 12,000 camps each year. Of
those facilities, approximately 7,000 are residential camps and 5,000 are day
camps. While experts agree that camp can increase self-esteem and foster
independence and lifelong friendships, finding the right time when a child is
ready to transition from day camp to overnight camp is challenging.

“The two major issues for kids are being comfortable with
sleepovers and having the desire to go [to camp],” said Wendy Mogel, a local
clinical psychologist, parent educator and school consultant.

Still, the therapist says that the older a child is, the
more likely he or she is to adjust to living away at camp. Having an older
sibling at camp or going with a friend can also make the transition easier.

After spending several summers at day camp in Malibu, as
well as frequently sleeping over at friends’ houses, Andie Natis of Mission
Viejo knew her daughter Blaine, 14, was ready to attend overnight camp.

“She’d been ready for years, but I just didn’t have the
money,” said Natis, whose daughter attended Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu for the
first time last summer.

“I was kind of nervous because I didn’t know anyone else
going, but I met people on the first day,” said Blaine, who will return to the
camp for a second summer this year. “In the end, I made lots of best friends
and had the time of my life.”

Blaine was so enthusiastic about the camp that her younger
sister, Brooke, 12, decided to go with her this summer.

Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute — Camp
& Conference Center said that most campers tend to make the switch to
overnight camp in fifth or sixth grade.

To ease the transition, Camp JCA Shalom offers minicamp programs,
which usually appeal to first- through fourth-graders. In these short sessions,
campers stay for five days. The hope is that the exposure will prepare them for
a longer camp session down the road. JCA Shalom also offers weekend camp
programs during the fall and spring.

“We find that it’s a great way for kids to transition
without committing for a one-week or two-week session,” said Kaplan, who added
that most weekend campers sign up for longer sessions or they realize that they
are not ready for overnight camp just yet.

Zach Lasker, assistant director of Camp Ramah, believes that
the experience of settling in depends on the child.

“There are kids who are loving it from the time they get
here, kids who take a few days to transition and kids who struggle throughout
the session,” Lasker said. “As an educator, I see more growth from the kids who
struggle and end up making it and finding out what they’re capable of.”

Berlin is anticipating that her daughter will struggle with
a bit of homesickness during her time at camp.

“I would be very surprised if she wasn’t homesick at all,”
Berlin said. “I think it’s just getting to the other side of missing the
comforts of home, being able to comfort herself and knowing it’s OK.”

Lasker noted that the summer separation can be just as hard
on parents as it is on campers.

“One mom said to me, ‘My daughter wants to go to camp for
four weeks and she thinks she’s ready, but I don’t know if I am,'” Lasker
recalled. “We talked about what the camp involves and handling the separation
from her daughter.”

Still, not every child is suited for residential camp.

“There are few kids where camp is a bit overwhelming for
them and it gets to the point where it’s not the right match and we might have
a camper who goes home early,” Lasker said.

Kaplan advised parents not to give their children the option
of coming home.

“For a child to transition, he or she needs time,” said the
administrator. “Camp JCA Shalom starts on a Tuesday. If the child doesn’t [feel
better] by Shabbat, we’ll contact the parents.”

In the meantime, Kaplan advises concerned parents to send
their children care-packages and letters reassuring them that they will have a
great time.

While Berlin is nervous about Jacqueline’s first summer away
from home, she is still confident that it will be a positive experience.

“I think she’s ready for a change,” Berlin said. “I think
she will feel a certain sense of accomplishment if she goes and has a good
time.” Â

For the Kids

Valuable Vacation

Summer’s almost over. I hope you’re having a great time. Did you go to camp? Were you in summer school? Did your parents take you on a fun trip?

In this week’s Torah portion, Ekev, Moses asks the Israelites to remember that, while they are about to enter a rich and fertile land, “flowing with milk and honey,” they must always remember those who need help: the orphan, the widow, the stranger and the poor.

So, while you continue to enjoy your summer, maybe you can also think a little about someone who needs your help. Why not pay a visit to a sick friend? Or bring some food to a homeless shelter? You can brighten up someone else’s summer, too.

Helping Hands

Unscramble the words to discover what you can do to help others. At the SOVA Food Pantry, (818) 789-7633, you can OTRS ODOF, TKOSC EVSLHSE and CPKA RCEIGORSE.

You can help the Family Violence Project, (818) 505-0900. Ask your parents for all AMOPSOH, DINCNEROTOI and OPSA that they collected from hotels on vacation. Then pack them up with some gently used YSOT.

Joke Time

by Nathalie Interiano.

Rabbi Levi was taking a walk down the street when he came upon little Jacob, who was standing on tiptoe, trying to reach the doorbell.

The rabbi said, “Shalom. Here, let me help you.”

The boy waited until the rabbi pushed the doorbell and then said, “Thanks rabbi. Now run as fast as you can!”

Trauma Triggers Camp Funds

The summer he attended a Christian day camp for free made a lasting impression on Allen Alevy, age 7 at the time. “They said I’d go to hell,” he recalled of an attempted conversion.

His father, a naval shipyard laborer, could afford little else. The nonobservant family of second-generation Russian immigrants lived in a subsidized housing project, Truman Boyd Manor. None of their neighbors were Jews.

Having pulled himself out of poverty through hard work and two California real estate booms, Alevy, 67, said he doesn’t want other cash-poor Jewish families, particularly those in the military, to be guided by their pocketbook this summer.

Alevy is a 25-year financial supporter of Huntington Beach’s Hebrew Academy, which in summer becomes one of the area’s most affordable day camps. In June, he established an open-ended fund for full or partial camp scholarships to permit the children of Jewish military families to attend camp, which has a second location at Morasha Jewish Day School in Rancho Santa Margarita.

Over the course of five two-week sessions, about 850 children, ages 2 to 14, enroll between the two locations. Traditional camp activities include sports, swimming, drama, dance, cooking, computers, ceramics and fabric art. Each week also has a Jewish theme. The cost is $150 per week.

Last year, about 20 percent of camp enrollees received some financial help, amounting to about $20,000 in subsidies, said Rabbi Zalman Marcus, director of the south county camp.

“There are plenty of Christian camps, and every Jewish institution is short of money,” Alevy said. “I may as well spend it while I’m here.”

The number of requests for camp assistance “is a silent epidemic afflicting our community,” says a financial appeal issued in May by Marcus, also rabbi of the Chabad Jewish Center of Mission Viejo. “It’s definitely more desperate than in the past. I didn’t realize how widespread it is.”

His appeal describes the long summer tedium confronting two sets of young children, their parents buffeted by desertion, job loss and injury.

“Those are true stories,” said Marcus, about working parents for whom camp is not an indulgence or enrichment, but an unaffordable necessity. Parents will typically forgo work rather than leave their children alone, he said. “They’re really up a creek.”

“The kids will go out of their minds,” with both boredom and envy, Marcus said.

Many of their more affluent playmates confront a different dilemma: scheduling and selecting from among the ever-increasing array of specialty day camps locally available. These include the Jewish Community Center’s day camp held at Irvine’s Tarbut V’ Torah Community Day School. For nonmembers, its cost ranges from a three-day, $310 kindercamp to $700 for a three-week theater camp.

The needy are not so obvious here because many people superficially retain an image of affluence, Marcus said. “People are embarrassed; they are in cars they can’t afford or don’t have health insurance. They’re just making it; they’re not going into the street. But camp is a luxury.”

Community Briefs

ADL Sponsors “Safe Community” Program inEncino

Earlier this year, a string of arson attacks on five houses of worship rocked the interfaith community. Earlier this month, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) sponsored an interfaith forum to prepare the community in case such events should reoccur.

“The series of attacks served as a wake-up call that we must remain vigilant,” ADL Pacific Southwest Regional Director Amanda Susskind said.

The First Presbyterian Church of Encino, which suffered $75,000-$100,000 in damages after it was firebombed on April 26, held the June 2 program, “Making Your Community and Religious Institution Safe,” featuring a panel of security experts and city officials, including Cmdr. Mark Leap of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Counter Terrorism Bureau; Chief Bill Bamattre and Assistant Chief Dean Cathey of the Los Angeles Fire Department; Col. Yoni Fighel, director of the educational program at the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism in Israel; City Councilman Jack Weiss; and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky.

Each panelist stressed the importance of community involvement.

“We would not have identified that suspect if it were not for a few people in the community that actually stepped forward…. I encourage you to form alliances in your community,” Leap told the audience. “Certainly [form] interfaith alliances, so that if we do have a situation like we did a month ago, there are already those built in lines of communication so that you can get the word out.”

Yaroslavsky reminded participants to put acts of hate into perspective, but to also respond with total vigilance.

“We need to celebrate one another,” he said. “To walk a mile in each other’s shoes. We need to understand what makes each other tick. Because when we do that, we find out that our differences are far outweighed by our commonalties. We have the same ambitions, we have the same aspirations, we have the same frustrations, we have the same fears.”

Participants also received a copy of the ADL’s security handbook, “Keeping Your Jewish Institution Safe.”

To order a copy of “Keeping Your Jewish InstitutionSafe,” call (310) 446-8000 or visit . — Rachel Brand, Contributing Writer

Camp Valley Chai Returns to GranadaHills

Camp Valley Chai, the only Jewish day camp in the north side of the Valley, is back after a one-year hiatus. The camp, which will continue to operate out of the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Granada Hills, is returning for a ninth summer.

“We want everyone to know that we’re back, we’re reopening and we’re bigger and better than before,” said Amy Grofsky, the camp’s director, who is returning to the position she’s held for six years after being away last summer.

The Jewish day camp is available to children from kindergarten through eighth grade and will offer the usual camp fare, in addition to swimming, karate, gymnastics, Shabbat services on Fridays and an Israeli cultural experience.

Camp begins June 30. For more information, call (818) 366-0907. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer

Heschel West Holds Hearing on NewComplex

Like the plight of most Angelenos, Abraham Joshua Heschel West School’s biggest obstacle in obtaining permission to build its new campus is all about traffic. The Heschel West School Board had its second hearing before the Los Angeles County Planning Commission on May 7 in an effort to obtain a conditional-use permit to build a nine-building school on a 70-acre site near Chesboro Road in Old Agoura in the Conejo Valley.

The hearing focused on the property’s Environmental Impact Report. In addition to concerns like noise and destruction of the area’s rustic charm, the opposition is currently focused on the expected influx of traffic.

“They haven’t begun to satisfy traffic access. Their stated access is unacceptable,” said Jess Thomas, president of the Old Agoura Homeowners Association.

Representatives for Heschel West say its current site, near the Liberty Canyon exit of the 101 Freeway, is inadequate for the growing student body.

Brian Greenberg, president of Heschel West, said the school’s board will respond to the traffic concerns and was clearly not thrown by the prospect of additional hearings.

“This is the process, and we knew ahead of time that it’s long and complicated process,” Greenberg said. “I personally don’t see any surprises.”

A third hearing is set for Sept. 10. — SSR

The Core of Judaism

Each year, Rabbi Leib Saras made a pilgrimage to see Rebbe Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezrich. When asked what Torah he went to learn, Leib Saras answered: “I do not go to learn interpretations of Torah. I go to watch the way he ties his shoes.”

Try this experiment: Put your hands in your pockets and try to explain to someone — verbally — how to tie shoes. It’s an exercise in frustration, because there are certain things you can learn by description, and there are others that can only be learned in the doing — learned not by words and concepts, but by involving fingers, hands and heart. Theory is important. But there is a knowing through practice and participation that cannot be replaced by theoretical description.

That kind of knowing has its own special character.

In the Torah this week, each of the Levitical families receives a part of the responsibility for transporting the mishkan (the shrine of God’s dwelling). Two of the families receive oxen and carts to carry their burden of holy instruments and accouterments. But to the third, no oxen and/or carts were distributed. That family was assigned the responsibility for the Ark, itself, and they were required to carry it upon their shoulders — bakatef yesau (Numbers 7:9).

There is much of our tradition that can be conveyed through description. One can learn about the history, about the philosophy, about the culture of Judaism. But the core of holiness, the experience of God’s presence, cannot be learned about; it cannot be done for us by others; it cannot be made lighter, easier, more convenient. It requires the intensity of full personal involvement and investment. It requires the whole self — bakatef yesau.

This month, thousands of youngsters will depart the comforts of home and family to share the experience of Jewish summer camps. A month or so from now, those same kids will tumble off buses, sleepy and soiled and transformed. They will take home crafts, new friends and a profound sense of having touched the core of Jewish life. They will bear vivid memories of Friday night sunsets, Havdalah beneath the stars, new Hebrew songs and a sense of belonging. They will learn little about Judaism. They will have lived Judaism personally and intensely.

Centuries from now, when the definitive history of American Judaism is written, scholars will note the contribution of synagogues and seminaries to American Jewish life. But they will single out the summer camp as the most unique American Jewish institution. No institution changes young lives as powerfully as does camp. No other institution offers the chance to come so close to the core of holiness and feel the joy of carrying Judaism oneself — bakatef yesau.

The Midrash connects our verse with another, Psalms 81:3, siu zimrah, “Take up the song! Sound the timbrel, the melodious lyre and harp!”

Carrying the Ark upon their shoulders gave the Levites the power to sing. This is true of every person who serves God, concludes the sefat emet (language of truth). True service fills a person with light and with joy.

And so, too, our kids. Returning from camp, they evince a thirst for Jewish learning and a new joy in Jewish living. Having touched the core of holiness, they take up an ancient song. Do yourself a favor this summer — you who are tired of the depressing pessimism that attends so much Jewish life — go and visit a Jewish summer camp and breathe in its joyful spirit.

Years ago, I staffed a Jewish summer camp. Each summer we opened the camp for a visitors’ day, which was inevitably the hottest day of the summer. Late in the afternoon on one visitors’ day, I trudged back to my cabin for a cold drink. On the way, I encountered an elderly man, sitting alone and obviously upset. I stopped to see if I could help him, but he waved me away.

“Can I help you find your family?”

“Leave me alone, young man, I’m fine.”

“How about a cold drink?”

“I’m fine, don’t bother.”

“Well, you’re obviously upset, so let me sit with you,” I persisted.

We sat a few moments, and finally he turned to me and I saw the tears in his eyes.

“I’m a survivor. Do you know what that means?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“I’m a survivor, and an old man, and I didn’t want to shlep up here today. But my daughter made me come because my granddaughter is here. She’s one of your campers. When I left Europe, years ago, I never thought I’d ever see Jewish children happy again. How can Jewish children be happy, being Jewish, after what Hitler did? But I look here and I see young people dancing, singing, with yarmulkes, speaking Hebrew. Young man, you, your friends, this place has given me back something Hitler took away.”

In tears, the two of us sat on the bench together.

Ed Feinstein is rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom in Encino.

Support for Summer CampAddicts

It’s a sweaty summer day in the city, and the sun — worthy of a heat-advisory at 9:30 a.m. — mercilessly scorches the sidewalks as I dodge bus-exhaust fumes, doughnut carts and the tourist masses while making my way to my office cubicle.

Mentally, however, I’m 700 miles away, walking down the dirt paths of Camp Tamarack — which, at 100 years old, shares with Surprise Lake Camp in Cold Spring, N.Y., the distinction of being the oldest Jewish summer camp in the United States. I spent 10 summers at the magical places known collectively as Tamarack Camps — five at the main camps in Brighton (now closed) and Ortonville, Mich., two at the wilderness camp in Ontario, one teen tour to Alaska and two as staff — and harvested some of the finest memories of my life.

It’s been eight years since I’ve walked through the gates of camp, but it’s a place I escape to regularly. I often think of the jokes we told around the flagpole, the burn of my muscles after swimming across the lake, the time I stepped on a toad in the woods. My friends — now physicians, lawyers, teachers — remain the closest to my heart, even if we have scattered across the country and seem to see each other exclusively at weddings. In recent years, I have sung camp songs around my family’s dinner table (my mother went to Tamarack, too), screamed them at the top of my lungs on mountaintops in New Hampshire and fumbled through the lyrics while riding in a limousine down the Las Vegas Strip.

The symptoms are obvious: I am one of the many “Former Campers Who Can’t Let It Go.” There are no support groups for us (yet), but the root causes of our affliction are easy enough to figure out. After weeks, months, years of summers spent living with the same group of peers, changing from muddy swamp-walk clothes into Sabbath whites, singing silly songs, playing sports, hiking up steep slopes and not showering for days on end, summer camp fosters memories and special friendships that simply cannot be replicated anywhere else.

The syndrome, apparently, is widespread. The first summer camps, like Tamarack, were founded first to provide immigrant children with fresh air and resources for integrating into American society. Over the years, camps were used as a tool for building Jewish identity by providing Jewish education in an informal atmosphere. Its effects, proponents say, are lasting. Studies by the Foundation for Jewish Camping show that 66 percent of camp alumni “feel importance of being Jewish,” compared to a national average of 44 percent. Of camp alumni, 63 percent are members of a synagogue, nearly double the statistics of Jews nationwide (33 percent).

“I love camp,” said Greg Rosenberg, 29, an 11-year veteran of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, interrupting this reporter’s first question. “It was just phenomenal. Looking back, I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my summers and my youth. If I could go back as a camper, I’d do it in a second. If I could get my summers off, get three or four of my good friends to go, I’d go back as a counselor, definitely.”

“I’m a camp lifer,” he said. “In the summertime, there are smells that remind me of camp: right before rain, right after it rains. Sometimes, when I wake up in the morning and it’s quiet, it reminds me of camp. If I’m by a lake, I’ll think of camp. When I get together with friends, we’ll always talk about camp memories.”

“Well, not always,” he added. “I’ve officially moved on.”

Maybe not officially. Recently, before his best friend (they met at camp, of course) moved across the country to Los Angeles — “one of his going-away wishes was that we get together and play good old-fashioned street hockey,” he said. “So 12 ex-campers got together on a Sunday afternoon and played street hockey in Cherry Hill, N.J. It was a throwback to our youth.”

Some ex-campers, of course, have turned their love of camp into a lifelong career. Ask any rabbi or Jewish educator and, chances are, his or her calling was shaped during the camping years. Of those who grew up to pursue careers outside the Jewish community, many still credit camp with helping to guide their path.

Lonnie Golden, a professor of economics at Penn State, Abington, said he was “influenced by issues of work and labor, equality and group behavior,” that he learned during his seven years at Camp Tavor, a Habonim Dror camp in western Michigan.

Golden’s wife attended Habonim Camp Moshava in Maryland. “We call ourselves a mixed marriage,” he joked. They send their two children — ages 9 and 11 — to Habonim’s Camp Galil in Pennsylvania.

“A neutral third party,” he said.

Today, Golden, 45, serves on Galil’s camp committee. He admitted to feeling some pangs when his children recall their recent camp experiences.

“I can’t say how much I adored the whole camp experience,” he said. “I still play guitar; I still like sports; I still like political discussions. I’m a member of a Reconstructionist synagogue, Mishkan Shalom, and we have an annual summer retreat. I get one little weekend a year; I get to go to summer camp.”

Some people have successfully transferred a special camp spirit into their adult lives, such as those who sing the Kabbalat Shabbat service each week to the tunes they learned at summer camp. Others, like myself, make a point of escaping to the wilderness for at least a few days each summer, where I indulge in camp-like pleasures such as tireless singing, brain-teasers and intimate conversations — not to mention all the instant oatmeal I can consume.

Alas, times have changed at Tamarack. Encroaching development closed the main camp in Brighton in 1993. Pressures to remain at the forefront of the camping field have ushered in an era of swimming pools, water-skiing, multimedia classes and a brand-new Web site (updated daily!) that brings tidings of new villages, new traditions and some truly bizarre flotation devices in the lake. But I’d wager the lasting effects remain the same.

Camp gave me an ability to approach the world in a new way. It fostered my sense of individuality while teaching a community-minded ethic, it taught me how to feel comfortable in the wilderness and it gave me a wonderful story to recount to my future children about the evening I got busted for skinny-dipping.

But perhaps most importantly, camp gave me a set of peers with whom I have unspoken and lasting bonds. With my camp friends, I never had to explain what Rosh Hashana was or why we call ourselves the “Chosen People.” When drinking in parking lots with my high school buddies in Ann Arbor (yes, people live there) had lost its thrill, I had a cabal of friends with whom I could explore the vast network of 7-Elevens in suburban Detroit. Even when I wasn’t at camp, it gave me a richer life; it made me free.

And today, when I close my eyes and can see the stars glittering above the lake, I realize that I still am.

The Camp Quest

While the summer is still a good four months away, the race
to register for Jewish overnight camp has already kicked into high gear.

“A lot of families don’t realize that you’ve got to act
fast,” said Stacey Barrett of Sherman Oaks, whose daughter has attended
Brandeis-Bardin Institute’s Camp Alonim in Simi Valley for seven summers. “One
year I mailed in the application in February and my daughter was placed on a
waiting list.”

A 1995-1997 study by the Foundation for Jewish Camping found
Jewish camps significantly increase Jewish identity, affiliation and practice,
while decreasing the likelihood of intermarriage. Unfortunately, getting into a
local Jewish camp is not as easy as finding a reason to go. With only a handful
of Jewish residential camps in the Greater Los Angeles area, parents must act
quickly or find another summer activity for their children.

Each summer, administrators at Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling
Hilltop Camp in Malibu, both run by Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles,
must turn away 25 to 40 prospective campers. Enrollment begins in December and
experienced parents know to send their deposits right away.

“You’re pretty much out of luck if you wait to turn in your
application in February,” said Cheryl Garland, the office administrator for the
Reform residential camps. Like other camps around the city, even getting a top
spot on the waiting list is not easy. Wilshire Boulevard Temple congregants get
first priority, returning campers get second preference and new campers are the
low men on the totem pole for securing a place once wait-listed.

Admittance to Camp Ramah, which has seven overnight camps
around the United States and Canada, including one in Ojai, has gotten so
competitive that administrators now accept applications as early as September.

“I was lucky,” said Janet Urman, whose son and daughter will
attend Ramah for their second and fourth summers, respectively. “I have nieces
and nephews who went to Ramah, so I was told I had to get [the application] in
the day [I received it in the mail] or soon as possible.”

The Los Angeles resident said that some Ramah parents drive
their applications to the camp offices the day they receive them to ensure that
their children will get in.

While cabins for certain age groups fill up faster than
others, Camp Ramah’s Assistant Director Zachary Lasker said that some children
miss out on the experience because parents take for granted that Ramah is full.

“The big myth is that Ramah in California fills up right
away and certain parents think, ‘Why bother trying?'” said the camp

Currently, Ramah’s seventh- to 10th-grade cabins are filling
up fast, but there are still a number of slots open for fourth-, fifth- and
sixth-graders. Ramah officials are also in talks about referring families to
other Ramah camps around the country that might have more availability.

Ramah, which runs seven overnight camps and five day camps,
is the only Conservative Jewish residential camp on the West Coast. In fact,
Camp Ramah in Wisconsin is the next closest. The National Ramah Camp
Commission, Inc. is considering building another camp in San Diego or Northern
California to accommodate more West Coast families looking for a Conservative
summer environment. Ramah will be opening a day camp in Berkeley this summer.

Bill Kaplan, executive director of the Shalom Institute:
Camp & Conference Center, which runs Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu, anticipates
that his camp will begin a waiting list in March when he expects enrollment to
reach capacity. As the camp is affiliated with The Jewish Federation of Greater
Los Angeles and the Jewish Community Centers, Camp JCA Shalom finds most of its
camps through those groups. Camp scholarships are available through The
Federation and 30 percent to 40 percent of campers receive financial aid. Even
though the camp is able to attract enough campers, Kaplan noted that many
families are unaware of the scholarship program.

“There are families that aren’t applying to camp because
they think they can’t afford it,” he said.

Camp Alonim, a non denominational camp celebrating its 50th
anniversary in June, is also filling up. Jill Sava, the camp’s assistant
director, said that while many slots are taken, there is availability within
some of the sessions.

“It depends so much on age group, session and gender,” Sava

Apparently, the older age groups and girls’ cabins fill up
faster and most campers seem to prefer the middle sessions as opposed to the
first and last of the one-, two- and three-week sessions.

Only one local Jewish residential camp claims to have a
number of openings for this coming summer: Camp Gilgoa in West Hills, which is
a Labor Zionist Youth Movement (Habonim Dror) camp that operates like a
kibbutz. “We have lots of space and would love to have more kids,” said camp
recruiter Natalie Stanger.

Stanger said that Camp Gilgoa is less popular because it
doesn’t directly draw from a synagogue.

“There’s not this huge organized force behind [Camp Gilgoa]
like some of the other camps,” she said.

The urgency to sign up for camp has become both a learning
experience and a fact of life for many L.A.-area Jewish parents.

“I’m not the type to let things sit around,” said Wendy
Bachelis, a Calabasas resident whose daughter has attended Hess Kramer for five
summers. “I knew from [sending my daughter] to day camp that the good
[sessions] fill up first.”

Barrett said she only made the mistake of holding off on
registration one time:

“Once you get an e-mail saying your kid is on the waiting
list, you learn your lesson and fill out the application immediately.”

For more information on Camp Hess Kramer and Gindling
Hilltop Camp, call (213) 388-2401. For Camp Ramah, call (310) 476-8571. For
Camp JCA Shalom, call (818) 889-5500, ext. 1. For Camp Alonim, call the
Brandeis-Bardin Institute at (805) 582-4450. For Camp Gilgoa, call (818)

Kids Page

Ack! Summer’s halfway over. I hope you’re having a great summer. Are you at camp? Did your parents take you on a fun trip? A cruise, perhaps?

In this week’s portion, Moses asks the Israelites to remember that while they are about to enter a rich and fertile land, “flowing with milk and honey,” they must always remember those who need help: the orphan, the widow, the stranger and the poor.

So, while you continue to enjoy your summer, maybe you can also think a little about someone who needs your help. That kid down the block who has no one to play with. Or maybe you can pay a visit to the Jewish Home for the Aging or bring some food to a homeless shelter. You can brighten up someone else’s summer, too!


Programs Continue at Valley JCCs

Programs will continue at the various Jewish Community Centers (JCC) around the San Fernanado Valley, albeit not all under the same umbrella. The new North Valley Jewish Community Center, Inc., (NVJCC) a nonprofit organization created after the Jewish Community Centers of Greater Los Angeles (JCCGLA) divested itself from the Granada Hills site, is still in negotiations to purchase the site, and is temporarily relegated to using only part of the property. But it still opened its summer camp July 1 with 10 children.

The organization hoped to use the entire property by September, NVJCC board member Andrea Goodstein said, noting that discussions with the JCCGLA toward that end were going well.

As for the other two Valley centers, the West Valley JCC is fully functioning and remaining a part of JCCGLA for the time being, according to JCCGLA Executive Vice President Nina Lieberman Giladi. Valley Cities JCC’s preschool ended the school year with an enrollment of more than 100 children, Giladi said, so both the site’s preschool and after-school programs will open in the fall as usual. Programs for seniors at Valley Cities are also continuing in a limited fashion, despite the cuts made following the JCCGLA’s declaration of near bankruptcy last December.

Enrollment has begun for preschool and after school programs at the NVJCC with a message line set up for both at (818) 594-4075. — Wendy J. Madnick, Contributing Writer

West Valley Community Health ExpoDebuts

Shomrei Torah Synagogue will join forces with co-sponsors Temple Aliyah, Valley Outreach Synagogue and the West Valley Jewish Community Center to present the very first West Valley Community Health Expo, a daylong fundraiser benefiting Magen David Adom West, on Aug. 4.

The concept behind the Health Expo evolved as a vehicle for an idea of Shomrei Torah’s Rabbi Richard Camras to raise the $54,900 needed to purchase an ambulance for Israel. The Expo will feature a variety of medical screenings, a blood drive and health- and safety-related exhibits. Scheduled speakers include: Judy Ziedler, who will lecture on the joys of kosher cooking; Jerry Guon, liver transplant recipient, who will speak on Jewish perspective on organ donation; Dr. Rena Falk, of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, who will talk about genetic screening; and representatives of Stroller Power, a group that teaches exercise workouts for new moms.

“I’m hoping that people will come to the Expo to learn about their own health,” said Nedra Weinreich, Health Expo Committee chair, “as well as do something that will help the health of those in Israel. You can help save lives here and as well in Israel.”

West Valley Community Health Expo will take place from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. on Aug. 4 at Shomrei Torah Synagogue, 7353 Valley Circle Blvd., West Hills. Blood drives will be held from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Admission is free, but donations will be encouraged. For information, call (818) 346-2721; or visit

— Michael Aushenker, Staff Writer

Shop ‘Til You Drop

Need a crock pot? Or would you prefer to donate your old one? If so, you’ll want to know that one of the San Fernando Valley’s most popular thrift shops has moved. The National Council of Jewish Women/Los Angeles (NCJW/LA) celebrated the opening of its Canoga Park store on June 11.

The store replaces the one previously located in Reseda. Harriet Baron, executive director of NCJW/LA, said she hopes the change will attract even more customers and donors.

“Quite simply, we felt that there was a market in the West Valley we were not reaching,” Baron said. “We know we have many constituents there.”

Baron said the new location has the advantage of being within the radius of a stretch of antique stores and thrift shops. The Canoga Park store is more spacious than its predecessor, with furniture housed on one side of the store and racks of clothing, mostly for women, on the right. There is a limited amount of children’s clothing but plenty of bric-a-brac for the kitchen and the prices are very reasonable. The store is easy to spot from the street due to its distinctive blue-and-white mural. The mural is based on an original design by Burton Morris in Pittsburgh, Pa., and was painted by a local artist known as Chase, who does all of his artwork for NCJW using spray paint.

Altogether, NCJW operates six thrift shops.

The store is located at 21716 Sherman Way. Hours of operation are 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Monday through Saturday) and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (Sunday). For more information, call (818) 710-7206. — WM

How the West Was Jewish

Historical figure Solomon Heydenfeldt, a Jewish justice on the California Supreme Court from the Gold Rush era, ruled on California water laws and cases involving religious freedom. Donning black-and-purple robes, an old-fashioned bow tie and his best southern accent, law professor Peter Reich brought Heydenfeldt to life for fourth-graders at Valley Beth Shalom Harold M. Schulweis Day School in Encino this past spring.

As the school’s fourth-grade social studies curriculum includes the California Gold Rush, Reich’s presentation brought a Jewish element to the study of American history during this period.

For the last 12 years, Reich has taught property and environmental law at Whittier College, as well as a legal history class at UC Irvine. — Sharon Schatz Rosenthal, Education Writer